North Adams School Committee Looks at Lunch Delinquencies

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Superintendent James Montepare, center, explained a new federal school lunch program.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Delinquent school lunch bills may land some parents in small claims court.

The School Committee has been struggling with how to deal with unpaid lunch bills for two years.

Last year, the school disctrict was $20,460 in debt because of parents who refused to pay. That number has been lowered to $5,011; however, 75 percent of the debt comes from 15 student cases.

School Committee members on Monday night suggested providing a one-time reduced price in the payment in attempt to get parents to pay. They also suggested hiring a collection agency but ultimately decided on bringing the cases to small claims court.

"As a district, as a system, and as an administration we are in the business of education," Mayor Richard Alcombright, committee chairman, said. "We are not in the business of collections, and unfortunately it has to happen, but you [administration] have enough to do without chasing that sort of stuff around."

Superintendent James Montepare explained a federal pilot, the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, offered to schools for universal lunch programs that allows all students to receive free lunch. Federal reimbursements are based on how many families are receiving assistance, rather than how many apply; the school districts pick up the balance. The program is new and has been working in larger areas such as Boston, but may not be financially feasible for North Adams because of the number of eligible students.

"It has to work financially, and if our numbers are correct, with the number of eligible students we have, we would be losing $8,000 a month," Montepare said.

The committee will receive more information on the program later this month and will make a decision whether or not to participate.

"We will proceed cautiously just to make sure all of our ducks are in a row and we make the right decision because it is a big decision," Montepare said.

In other news, Montepare said he has formed a committee of teachers, parents, School Committee members, School Building Committee representatives, district administrators and Historical Commission members to deliberate and recommend a new name, or not, for the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School.

The naming committee will meet sometime next week to go over the parameters of the recommended School Committee procedure in choosing a name for what will become an elementary school.

"The School Committee policy talks about trying to find a name with historical significance and moves us away from names of current community members that are still alive," said Montepare. "It gives us guidelines for naming the school and points us toward someone inspirational, dedicated to education, and who had a historical presence."

The committee members discussed the importance of community involvement in the decisions and urged residents to contact them with possible recommendations.

The naming committee will bring recommendations back to the School Committee.

Alcombright also informed the committee of possible increases in the Conte renovation project and possible solutions. Professional estimators have checked the construction budget through the school's planning phases and predicted bids would come in slightly under budget. However,  last week the subcontractor bids came in 8 percent over budget, which comes to approximately $900,000.

"We are at a $900,000 juncture, and we are waiting for the general contractor bids Monday," Alcombright said. "If they come in on target then we are still $900,000 over budget, and if they come 8 percent above target like the others than we are probably another $600,000 off target."

Alcombright added that most of the expenses come from electrical work and painting. He also added that if the bids come over budget Monday, the committee will have to look at what it can cut, and a re-bid might take place.

"My guess if we were to re-bid it we would see more people bid, but it will delay the opening of the school," he said. "We will not go over our budget, and we will not borrow more than what we said initially."

Tags: North Adams School Committee,   school lunch,   

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