At Tuesday night's meeting, School Committee members presented the first reading of the Coventry School District's updated school lunch charge policy.
Finance Director Robin Pelletier explained to the committee, administrators and parents present that there has been an increasing trend of children at the elementary school level throwing away the meals sent with them by their parents and charging hot lunches served by ARAMARK.
Because of this trend, the school department is mailing letters home to the parents of every student that has a balance of $10 or more - a task that is costing the district about $100 a month in postage.
"Any deficit hits the bottom line in our lunch budget," said Pelletier.
She went on to explain that along with Superintendent Michael Convery, Asst. Superintendent James Erinakes and Aramark Food Services Director John McGrath, she will be working during the summer to establish ways of informing parents that they can keep track of their child's lunch accounts using an online portal.
"We're trying to address the fact that although we can't have continued negative balances growing, we do need a stopgap so that we can feed the kids who actually don't have the funds to eat," Pelletier said.
The revised policy encourages parents to prepay meals for their children thereby eliminating situations that could develop during lunchtime over negative balances. Prepayments for breakfast and lunch can be made at www.MyNutriKids.com or by cash and check payments at each school. (Online payments are preferred.) According to the MyNutriKids website, a convenience fee of $1.75 is charged for each deposit transaction. Parents placing money into multiple meal accounts will be assessed the $1.75 fee only once per deposit.
Another point that is strongly emphasized in the policy is that of repaying charges in a timely manner.
A maximum of three charged hot lunches will be allowed at the elementary school level and a maximum of two hot lunches at the middle school level, with repayments expected within two school days. After the maximum numbers are reached, students that continue to charge will receive an "alternate reimbursable meal replacement", consisting of a meal that meets nutritional standards, but comes at a lower cost to the program.
Students requesting a lunch at the high school level will not be permitted to charge food items. In the event that a high school student does not have the funds to purchase a lunch, an alternate reimbursable meal replacement will be provided and charged to the student's account with expected repayment within two school days.
"We moved from serving a cheese sandwich to the alternate reimbursable meal replacement that meets guidelines for nutrition but may not be the meal that everyone else is receiving," explained Pelletier. "We needed to offer something different so that we're not serving a cheese sandwich to a student that may be lactose-intolerant for example."
The new policy includes forwarding a bi-weekly list of negative account balances of more than $10 to each school principal from ARAMARK. Once the notifications have been sent out, parents will have ten days to pay or make arrangements to pay the outstanding balances. Student accounts with balances higher than negative $20 for which payment arrangements have not been made are subject to closure by Coventry Public Schools.
The first reading of the policy can be viewed in the attached PDF file or on the school department's website, which can be accessed by clicking here. The policy will stay on the department website for two weeks, during which comments and suggestions may be submitted for consideration at a future school committee meeting.