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School Lunch Charge Policy

Pembroke School Lunch Charge Policy Update

Good Afternoon Pembroke Families:

 As many of you are now aware, the Pembroke School Committee voted at their January 21, 2020 meeting to change our Meal Charge Policy.  This new policy will take effect on March 2, 2020.

I think it is important to share the history of the Meal Charge Policy which was a catalyst for the policy discussion, and ultimately, the vote to make the change.  As with any policy revision, our School Committee meets and discusses proposed changes several times before any changes go into effect.

On June 30, 2016, we used funds from our operating budget (the budget that pays for teachers/textbooks, etc.) to write off $60,574 in school lunch debt.  We made this decision after numerous attempts to collect the debt, and in accordance with the Department of Food and Nutrition requirements that negative balances are not allowed to roll over from year to year. This ensured that on the first day of school for the 2016-2017 school year there were no students with a negative balance.  Today, just 3 and a half years later, our owed lunch balance now equals $35,769.  This is close to $100,000 spent over the past four years on lunch debt that might have been used to fund staff and materials. Instead, operating funds intended for educational purposes are being utilized to pay obligations that are intended to be the responsibility of families. 

Every year we work with families and create payment plans or link struggling families with support.  This fall our Food Service Department underwent a state audit and it was determined by the state that our efforts were not meeting state guidelines for best practices. The January change to our Meal Charge Policy was a direct recommendation of that audit.

Once the audit recommendations were made to the School Committee, our Policy subcommittee began looking at how other area schools manage their charge policies.  Following a review of charge policies, we created a draft for Pembroke Public Schools. This draft was then discussed at School Committee meetings in both December and January before a vote occurred to make the change.

So now that the reasoning for the change has been outlined, let me take a minute and explain how the change will look in practice.  The change in policy is in no way an attempt at shaming a student or family that has fallen on hard times.  The policy change will ensure that a line of communication is initiated with families by appropriate school personnel so that we can assist with securing the proper resources that are available. The new $25 charge maximum translates to approximately two weeks of school lunches.  If a student is coming to school for two weeks with no lunch, and no lunch money, that would be a signal to school personnel that a family may need assistance. Our building principals, guidance staff and other support staff will work with families to fill out the free and reduced lunch applications.  Understanding that in some situations families will not qualify, our intent is to work with the family. This support can only happen if we are communicating with families.

As a mom myself, I sometimes forget to put money on my son's lunch account, or he forgets to take his lunch. In situations such as these, the change won't even be noticeable to families.  We will formally contact families when student accounts reach the $15 balance mark.  These communications will come in the form of phone calls from the staff that I outlined above, in hopes of connecting with families so we can be of assistance.  Parents will continue to receive a plethora of emails from NutriKids when your account has a low balance.   Lunch balances are also posted in PowerSchool for our secondary families, and we will continue to include a balance notification with report cards as well. 

The Meal Charge Policy is not intended to be a “hard cap” at $25. If the school is aware of an extenuating circumstance in any family, students will continue to receive meals through our cafeteria.  In the instance of a student account reaching the $25 deficit, and the family has not returned any of our attempts to communicate, that student will no longer be able to get anything through our point of sale system. However, we do not anticipate this extreme situation occurring. We take our role to support students and families very seriously, and we are not in the business of embarrassing children.

In consideration of the policy change, we are in the process of adding share/donate refrigerators/stations at our elementary schools.  Instead of throwing out part of a meal, or fruit or milk, students may choose to donate it to the share station. The intent is for these donations to go to the Fire House Pantry several times a week, but in the interim, it offers an opportunity for our teachers and administrators to pull together a lunch for a student in need.

Should you have any further questions about the Meal Charge Policy change, please reach out to me directly.  I am open to discussion and suggestions and seek always to do what is best for the Pembroke community.

Thank you,

 Erin Obey, Superintendent