The Clarkstown School District now has a that board members hope will stem the growing deficit of unpaid lunches. Food Service Director Rob Preiss said approximately 97 families are responsible for 51 percent of the more than $14,000 owed to the district for unpaid lunches provided to students.
Board members unanimously passed the policy, which goes into effect once a student’s “My Lunch Money” account” has fallen to a negative $10. Clarkstown was the only school district in Rockland County.
According to the policy, once an elementary school student’s account reaches that point, they are eligible for five reduced lunches that meet state nutritional guidelines and regulations. For middle school students, the number of reduced lunches that will be provided is three. High school students will not receive any reduced lunches once their account is $10 short.
Preiss said the district currently reaches out to parents and/or guardians when the funds in meal accounts are used up and they are given information about the federal government’s free and/or reduced meal cost program. School principals are also made aware of the situation. Under the new policy, letters will go out weekly and parents and guardians will be contacted in an effort to resolve the unpaid balance.
Preiss said the current amount of money owed is between $14,000 and $15,000 and has accumulated over a number of years. Board member Wendy Adolff noted there was no policy in place when the more than $14,000 was incurred; the new guidelines cannot be retroactive. Board President Joe Malgieri said all students’ account would be reset to zero.
District Assistant Superintendent for Business, Facilities &Fiscal Management John LaNave said some of the families that owe money may be in financial straits and reluctant to come forward and seek assistance. Others do not have financial needs but do not consider paying for the meals a priority. Without a policy, there was no consequence and Adolff noted some students who were not paying for lunches in elementary school have likely continued to take advantage of the district through middle and high school.
Preiss noted it would be a difficult situation if an elementary school student had the five reduced lunches and their account problems have not been resolved. He said he would not be surprised to learn that teachers, teaching assistants and lunch staff go into their own wallets to pay for meals for the child. Another option is for establishment of a PTA “Sunshine Fund” to provide funds in those situations.
Preiss will update the board on how the policy is working in three months.