Conway School Board - Kevin Richard

Superintendent Kevin Richard says collecting lunch and breakfast debts can be a difficult task. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — School officials are concerned about the $10,000 in debt the Conway School District acquired during the 2018-19 school year in unpaid breakfasts and lunches by students and families.

The outsourcing of its food service to Fresh Picks in July 2018 led to 37,000 additional meals being served over the past school year, including 12,000 more breakfasts and 25,000 more lunches.

But apparently not all students paid for their meals.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to be in the collection business,” Conway School Board member Randy Davison said last Thursday.

Students have the option of using cash or debit cards to pay for their lunches.

Superintendent Kevin Richard said by phone Tuesday that the district tries to resolve delinquent accounts and has gone to court to do so.

“We’ve had to take three or four people to court,” he said. “It costs us $100 every time we have to go that route and it results in us gaining next to nothing.”

The Conway School Board has a Meal Charge Policy that includes a section labeled “Overdue Lunch Account Procedures,” which outlines the policy adopted by the board Dec. 12, 2011. It was most recently revised on July 10, 2017.

In its first step to recoup funds, the food service department sends out “weekly reminders to parents regarding students who have a negative balance on their lunch accounts via email, phone call or note home with the student in a sealed envelope.”

If a student’s account reaches a negative balance of $25, the “food service director or principal will call the parent, documenting the dates and times of the call or send a letter using U.S. mail. The principal may work with the parent to establish a payment plan if appropriate.”

If the account balance exceeds $50, “the principal or designee will request a meeting with the parent" and explore "whether an application for free or reduced-cost meals is warranted.

"Where extenuating circumstances of financial hardship exist and the family is not eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, the district will work with the parents to identify and engage governmental and charitable resources that are available to assist the family.”

If parents don't resolve the debt, the policy states, the “principal shall mail a letter to the parents directing them to have their student bring meals from home and cease using the school meal program."

Finally, if the parent does not address the negative balance in a student’s lunch account, "the superintendent or designee may pursue payment through civil legal action, including filing a claim in small claims court."

In addition, the principal may "assess whether a report of child neglect is warranted to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division for Children, Youth & Families.”

But Richard said no student will be turned away from a meal.

The policy states: “Regardless of whether a student has money to pay for a meal or a negative balance in the student meal account, a student requesting a meal shall be provided with a meal from among the choices available to all students.”

“We try phone calls, letters, no one wants to go to court,” Richard said, adding, “it’s a tough thing.”

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