YATESVILLE – Time’s up to pay for school lunches at Pittston Area.
After another spirited debate, the School Board voted Tuesday night at its regular monthly meeting to keep in place a controversial school lunch policy for students with negative balances in their lunch account.
Currently, if for any reason students do not have lunch money in their account, they are given a lunch and the cost is added to their account.
Under the “Negative School Lunch Balance Policy,” passed last month, a student who hasn’t paid for three or more lunches will be given an alternative lunch, which includes the choice of a ham-and-cheese sandwich, a cheese sandwich or a “sunbutter” and jelly sandwich, and a fruit, a vegetable and milk. Sunbutter is a peanut-free peanut butter substitute. Those children will not be allowed to purchase any ala carte menu items, such as PowerAde, cookies or chips.
Superintendent Michael Garzella said the $60,000 in unpaid student lunches has gone down to $35,000 since two letters were sent home in the past few weeks.
He said the first letter notified parents of the balance and threatened to take them to the district judge for payment. The second letter informed parents of ways to add money to their child’s lunch account through the district’s website. The deadline to send overdue accounts to the district judge was Tuesday.
Garzella said the policy hasn’t been enforced yet, but will start immediately because the deadline the administration set has passed.
“We wanted to give the parents a chance first,” Garzella said.
District Principal Kevin Booth formulated the policy. He told the board he analyzed 20-25 of other districts’ policies, some much more strict. He said one district even denies children a lunch. He has stressed no child will be denied a meal at Pittston Area.
Board member Joe Kelly led the charge to end the policy, but did not have enough votes. He was supported by Rich Gorzkowski and Charlie Sciandra.
“We voted on a policy but didn’t enforce it,” he said. “I’m glad we got $25,000 … but you’re going to have to start enforcing the policy at some time. We’ve made progress and I don’t believe to start enforcing the policy now, at the end of the year.”
He said he voted no because he’s against segregating children and possible bullying and self-esteem issues.
Board President Tony Guariglia said nobody wants to hurt a child and no child is being hurt.
“It’s outlandish to hear that you’re voting for a policy that is hurting children,” he said. “Our superintendent and our district principal brought us this policy and they feel it’s best.”
Garzella said he doesn’t have an easy answer.
“Nobody wants to put a spotlight on a child,” Garzella said. “It’s a difficult issue because bills keep piling up and a lot of other schools have alternative meal policies. I don’t have an easy answer.”
In other business:
• The board voted to ask the Albert B. Melone Co. to negotiate a new one- to three-year contract with the district. Board member Marty Quinn said the district shouldn’t change financial consultants in the middle of teacher contract negotiations. Melone’s current contract is up soon. The firm will have two weeks to respond.
• The board hired NovaCare for the district’s athletic training. A move to use Physical Therapy Associated of Northeast Pennsylvania did not pass.
• The board unanimously hired Megan Moran as a part-time cleaning employee.
• The board hired Tess Toole as a cafeteria monitor. Kent Bratlee and Kelly abstained.