News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 21, 2019
Unpaid lunch bills spur community action
Social media campaign raises over $2,000

by Monique Labbe

Parents of Deer Isle-Stonington students received a memo earlier this month stating that students with unpaid lunch balances of $50 or more would no longer be able to charge lunches until that balance was paid.

That also meant that students would not be provided with hot lunch, but would instead receive a Sunbutter sandwich and milk.

Sunbutter is an alternative to peanut butter, made from sunflower seeds.

Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington said that the CSD 13 Board has been trying various ways to tackle the issue for the last few years, with little to no success, as parents have continued to not pay their children’s lunch bills.

“We wrote up our new practice and process to follow this year, but unfortunately, it did not get followed. When we realized this, we immediately went back to what we created and started getting the word out,” said Elkington.

The memo sparked concern from parents, including CSD Board member and mother Liz Perez, who started a Facebook fundraiser for her birthday to help raise money to be put toward school lunch bills.

“The letter came out about the unpaid lunch bills, and I figured this was the perfect opportunity to keep it local,” said Perez.

Perez asked for $5 donations, as her birthday fell on the same day as the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl game. At the time, the Patriots had won five Super Bowl rings.

“I thought $5 was totally reasonable,” she said.

Her Facebook friends and followers agreed with her, and overnight the campaign raised more than $1,000 by 6 a.m. When Perez took the fundraiser down at just after 7 p.m. that night, she had raised $2,183.

“After fees and processing we raised $2,097,” she said. “I was floored and very thankful for everyone who donated and shared [the fundraiser].”

While the fundraiser is only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem, Elkington is hopeful that the stricter implementation of the policy will spark parents to fill out the free and reduced lunch forms sent home at the beginning of the year, which are then sent out to the state for possible funding assistance. The more accurate those reports are, the better chances the school district has for receiving additional funding. Unfortunately, as Elkington has reported multiple times during his time as superintendent to the district, the number of forms returned does not match up with the actual needs of the students.

In the February 5 memo, Elkington noted that multiple attempts are made throughout the school year, via telephone and paper bills, in addition to the free and reduced lunch forms, to notify and help parents before their bills become too much for them to pay.

“Many times, our staff does not get their phone calls returned or is told we will see a check or the application filled-out and returned, which doesn’t happen,” Elkington wrote in the memo.

At the February meeting of the CSD Board, Head of Schools Lynn Witham acknowledged the difficulty many families face, but she believes the responsibility is a shared one.

“Parents need to have accountability, too,” she said, adding that not all outstanding bills are for people who are financially challenged.