Last updated: March 18. 2014 11:39PM - 3293 Views
By Joe Healey jhealey@civitasmedia.com

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YATESVILLE – The Pittston Area School District is dealing with more than $60,000 in unpaid student lunches dating back several years and implemented a new policy Tuesday to try to curb the problem.

Currently, if for any reason students don’t have lunch money in their account, they are given a lunch and the cost is added to their account.

Under the new “Negative School Lunch Balance Policy,” passed at the school board’s regular meeting, 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.

District Principal Kevin Booth said those children will not be allowed to purchase any ala carte menu items.

“We’re going to allow students to miss payment on up to three school lunches,” Booth said. “At that point, they will be served an alternate lunch until they bring their lunch accounts underneath that three-lunch threshold.”

He stressed no child will be denied a meal.

“No student ever will go without a lunch, but their options will be limited,” Booth said.

Board members Joe Kelly and Charles Sciandra disagreed with the new policy and voted against it.

“I don’t believe in penalizing the kid because the parents aren’t paying up,” he said. “We need to step up and see what we can do about the issue.”

“If you owe money, you get an inferior lunch,” Sciandra said. “That’s not right.”

Tony Guariglia was absent. The rest of the board passed the policy.

Everyone on the board agreed that no student should be hungry in school.

Garzella said the district has tried numerous ways of making the parents pay up, including telephone calls, letters and even going as far as a collection agency.

“None of those things have worked for us,” Garzella said.

A push by the district was able to get a lot more children signed up for free and reduced lunches who were previously not on the rolls.

In other business:

• Retired state Trooper Michael Boone of Avoca was hired as the district’s new police officer. The position is being funded through a $60,000 state Safe Schools grant.

The grant is over two years. The first year, the state will pay the full $40,000 salary, and the second year the state’s $20,000 must be matched by the district.

The state required that the person hired must be a retired state police officer, a retired municipal officer or retired military police. Boone will be a subcontractor for the district and won’t be eligible for benefits or a pension.

The district currently has seven full-time security guards and two part-timers. Officials expect some retirements in the near future and may not replace the retirees, instead using the savings to help fund the position after the grant money dries up.

All of the board voted in favor of the hiring except Joe Kelly, who abstained because he wasn’t part of the interview process, and Guariglia, who was absent.

• The district’s school calendar was updated. April 17 and April 21, (Holy Thursday and Easter Monday) traditionally days off as part of Easter Break, will be used as snow make-up days for all students.

Seniors will be required to attend one Saturday school day, tentatively scheduled for June 7, before graduation, which is set for June 13. Every other students’ last day will be June 17.

The employee unions that contractually have Easter Monday as a paid holiday will receive an additional vacation day if they work that day.

• Sciandra attempted to end the district’s contract with its auditor, Bonita and Rainey, and do a Request For Proposal for auditor and business consultant. The current business consultant, Albert B. Melone Co., resigned last year but agreed to continue to serve until its contract is up in June.

“I’m trying to treat this like a business, and as a businessman I would try to get the best price I can,” Sciandra said.

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