Donations Come in for School Lunch Payments

A little tough love and a cheese sandwich are helping the Derry Cooperative School District whittle away at its outstanding School Lunch accounts.

Business Manager Jane Simard gave an update on the lunch program’s efforts to stay solvent at the April 8 School Board meeting.

Last month, the board had adopted a policy of no longer allowing children in the Kindergarten-Grade 8 school district to charge school lunches once they had an outstanding balance of more than $20. Instead of a full lunch, children who arrive at the cash register without money will be given an “alternate lunch” of cheese sandwich and fruit, and their account will be charged $1. Simard and the board agreed that no child should go away hungry, but that something should be done about the outstanding balances.

Simard said the new program “has gone extremely well.”

The head cooks, kitchen managers and Food Service Director Susan Baroskas were amenable to the policy, Simard said. Notices went home with elementary students, while families with outstanding balances also received phone calls. In the first week, there were only four days of school, and some schools served no alternate meals, while others served one or two, she said. Parents began to make payments, and the overall outstanding balance for the district has gone from $12,000 to $5,000, she said.

The balances remaining are as follows: Derry Village School, $280; East Derry Memorial School, $149; Barka, $171; South Range, $244; Grinnell, $1,687; Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, $1,569; and West Running Brook Middle School, $1,250.

With the exception of Grinnell, which serves a lower-income population, the highest balances were in the middle schools. Simard observed that is partly because the district doesn’t send home notices with middle school students, and the parents weren’t aware of the change.

The district received several anonymous donations to pay off children’s balances, she said, and these were applied to the accounts of students who are now on the Federal Free Lunch program, but had balances from before they qualified. She thanked the donors on behalf of the families and said the district would still accept donations to help with other outstanding balances.

Another option, she said, is with a family that has an eighth-grader going on to high school and that student has a surplus in their lunch money account at the end of the year. “They could donate that to someone with an outstanding balance,” she said.

In a still-struggling economy, the district has seen an increase in students qualifying for Free and Reduced lunches, Simard said. “More kids went free this month, more kids went reduced,” she said.

Grinnell has 49.62 percent of its students, or almost half, on the program. East Derry Memorial is the lowest in the district, at 12.3 percent, but even that number went up this month, with three more students qualifying.

Simard said the number of Direct Certified students, who are directly certified by the state because they receive other services, has increased for Free and Reduced lunches as well.