Amherst-Pelham schools mull ways to cover lunch debt

  • Amherst Regional High School

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2019 11:32:13 PM

AMHERST — More than two years after the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools ended a policy in which different, less expensive meals could be provided to students who owe money for their lunches, school officials are considering ways to offset this growing debt.

With the debt for all students enrolled in the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham regional schools between $50,000 and $60,000, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee recently began a discussion about how to apply a small amount of money previously collected to cover school lunch debt.

As of late October, there was $193 available, according to Sean Mangano, the district’s director of finance. But there is no specific policy in place for how this money is used.

School Committee member Anastasia Ordonez said one idea to increase the amount coming in is to consider a means of matching donations for lunch debt, which might encourage more people to contribute.

Ordonez said it would also be worth exploring other ways to mitigate this burden on families.

Mangano said the district wants to set a goal for the account and that lunch debt donations could be a project for the annual Valley Gives Day.

The amount of money donated so far on behalf of lunch debt is small compared to the $20,000 donation in June to the Northampton School Committee that covered almost all of the outstanding lunch debt in the city’s schools.

At the end of the school year, any debt is covered through the school budget as officials balance the books.

In 2017, the School Committee adopted a policy stating, “All students will receive a regular lunch each and every day regardless of overdue balance.”

That changed a policy it previously established in March 2015 for providing a “meal alternative,” such as a cheese sandwich with fruits and vegetables, to students with overdue accounts. That policy, though, was never actually implemented.

The policy also requires monthly emails to parents with low or negative balances, supplementing notices that are mailed home three times a year. The new rules also gave the superintendent or a designated official the discretion to reduce or waive a family’s debt based on individual circumstances. Parents and guardians must make arrangements before the school year’s end “to fully or partially pay, or waive, outstanding balances.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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