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February 20, 2014

Schools target $78K owed in lunch bills

Officials say $78,000 owed

At Gloucester High School, lunch costs $3.50 a day. At O’Maley Innovation Middle School, it costs $3.40. And at the elementary level, it costs $2.90.

But the failure of some kids and their families to pay even that amount has cost city taxpayers $78,000, and school officials are looking to do something about it.

School officials and city councilors Tuesday night began grappling with what some referred to as a “chronic problem,” the failure of students and/or their families to pay for school lunches. The running count owed as of this week has hit $78,000, officials say.

With that in mind, the city’s school district is taking 65 families to small claims court, Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier said.

The action comes after some 90 letters were sent out to parents in January, putting them on notice that the district would take them to court to recoup missing lunch money. Since then, more than two dozen families have paid, Safier indicated.

In the meantime, the School Committee decided to publish the name of Gloucester High School students who owe money — and how much they owe — at the high school, next to other students who have unpaid financial obligations for other reasons.

That list shows that a majority of the students who owe money are ninth- or 10th-grade students. Given that the ninth-graders have only been in high school classes this year for about 100 days, that suggests that younger high school students have owed money since their time in O’Maley Innovation Middle School.

Under current school policies, students with financial obligations cannot attend events such as the prom or semiformal dances.

But some at Tuesday night’s meeting supported pressing parents for the money by other means.

Ward 2 City Councilor Melissa Cox noted that some parents may be choosing to pay fees for student-athletes but are not paying their lunch bill, and she said students who owe lunch money should not be allowed to play sports.

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