News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 7, 2019
School board mulls student lunch collections

by Tevlin Schuetz

During a Tuesday school board meeting, the CSD #13 board discussed the collection of monies owed by families for student lunches in light of the fact that many were behind in payments.

A January 30 posting by school officials to the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School Facebook page sought to reminded parents that accounts in excess of $50 would be unable to charge future meals. “Instead students will be provided with cereal and milk for breakfast and a Sun-Butter Sandwich and milk for lunch until the balance is paid,” the post said.

A number of families on the Island have been behind in paying for their children’s lunches, Elkington reported at the February 5 meeting, and there have been concerns voiced within the community about the district’s collection policy. The issue has been ongoing, and the school administration has sought a variety of ways to ameliorate the problem, Elkington said.

“This is a tough situation…but it is something we have to deal with,” Elkington said.

He shared the steps taken in the collection process and the efforts the district makes to meet people halfway. “Many districts in the state do not allow families to charge [on their food service accounts], but we do,” he said, and the limit was increased to $50 this school year.

“We make multiple attempts to get parents to work with us,” Elkington said: multiple bills are sent to students’ homes, phone calls are made to parents and free and reduced-cost lunch applications are sent to them as well. “We offer them the opportunity to do a payment plan or will offer to assist them with filling out the free and reduced lunch application,” he said.

Often, however, parents do not return calls or do not send checks or completed applications, he said.

While a recent outreach effort by the administration did prompt a number of families to settle up, there are still a couple dozen families who owe $50 or more to the district, Elkington said.

The school nutrition program is supposed to break even, but it does not, he said.

The school budget supports food service by around 67 percent, or $67,000, Elkington said. As a means of comparison, he noted that the amount is equal to the pay allocated for one experienced teacher or two teaching support staff.

“[But] kids have to eat, so it’s money well spent,” he added.

The budgeted amount does not cover any of the lunch bills left unpaid, however, which add up to a couple thousand dollars each year, Elkington said.

“We take it as a loss,” he said.

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.

“I’m concerned about the confidentiality part of it,” parent Heidi Shepard said of the collection process. She suggested that outside assistance should be considered to cover the outstanding bills. “There are a lot of people on the Island who would donate,” she said.