Mattapoisett School Committee members took action on March 10 to prevent further school lunch accounts from accruing overdue balances by adopting a new policy that limits delinquent lunch accounts from charging more than a total of five lunches. After that, the account will be frozen and the child will be offered an alternative lunch of either a cold cheese sandwich or peanut butter sandwich and milk until the account is paid off.
Food Service Director Caitlin Meagher told the committee that a similar policy has been in place at the junior high and high school, but with a maximum allowance of three charged lunches.
“Really, Mattapoisett is pretty good with the negative lunch accounts,” said Meagher.
Presently, at the Center School, there are 44 accounts overdue, totaling just under $500. At Old Hammontown, 12 accounts are delinquent, totaling $42.
Meagher stated during a follow-up interview, “In our district it’s not a huge problem, but in other districts it has become an issue.”
Meagher explained that the alternative lunch of either a cheese or peanut butter sandwich is preferred because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) donates cheese and peanut butter to the federal school lunch program, which will help mitigate the cost to the district for providing the lunches.
When asked if there is any concern over social consequences to some students receiving the alternative lunch, and whether they might appear singled out, Meagher replied, “It’s tricky with the little ones. We obviously don’t want to upset them.” She said the older students at the junior and high school do not seem bothered by the alternative lunch, but it has not yet been tried at the elementary school level.
“Obviously we’ll be sensitive to the kids,” said Meagher. “And I’m hoping it doesn’t become obvious, because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are always a choice … It’s not that their eating something completely different.”
Committee Chairman James Higgins called it “a reasonable procedure,” in addition to the fair notification Meagher sends out weekly to parents to inform them about the status of delinquent accounts.
“And I think it’s good they have an option with the alternative lunch,” said Higgins.
Parents were reminded that they can apply for free or reduced lunch at any time throughout the year, and Meagher will soon begin including information about applying for the free/reduced lunch program along with the account delinquency notices she sends to parents.
In other matters, the committee approved the $6, 092, 177 fiscal year 2015 budget, up $109,770 from FY14.
The first draft of the FY15 budget initially called for an increase in spending of $423,787 above the FY14 budget, but two teaching positions for which the committee strongly advocated ultimately had to be removed from the budget.
“As we moved through the [budget] process,” said Superintendent Doug White, “we’re pretty much stable with our current staff.”
We had to be realistic, though, said Higgins.
“It’s a very reasonable amount and a very good budget,” said Higgins. He later added, “Things can change as time goes by, and more [state funding] could become available.” He continued, “My hope for advocating for a second second-grade teacher is not all lost…but we have to move forward with what we have now.”
“It’s a budget that…a lot of hard work has gone into,” said White. He added that this number is what it will take to “maintain and increase the level of educational services to our students.”
Also at the meeting, the committee accepted the donation of a wooden shed no longer needed by the Police Department, which will be moved to Old Hammondtown.
The committee also accepted a $3,000 donation from the League of Women Voters for sixth-graders to participate in a water steward project, an educational program that teaches students about water, water consumption, and water resources.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos, a member of the League of Women Voters, highly praised the year-long project, which will have students taking field trips to attend presentations, and also producing public service announcements on water consumption, interacting with local town government figures, and writing short stories.
The next Mattapoisett School Committee meeting will be on April 14, at 7:00 pm at the Center School.
By Jean Perry