Student Meal Account Procedures 2022-2023

Needham Public Schools recognizes that healthy, nutritious meals are an important component to student readiness and ability to learn. Needham Public Schools shall provide nutritious and well-balanced meals in its school meal program. By statute, the District’s Nutrition Services Department is a self-supporting fund that shall not have a negative balance at the close of a fiscal year. Unpaid charges place a financial strain on the Nutrition Services Department and on the District’s operating budget. To be fair and equitable, and in order to ensure compliance of all who participate in the school meal program, the policy establishes procedures for methods of payment, charge availability and collection methods.

                                                                                   
Protection of Students With Unpaid Meal Debt From Public Identification And Punishment

                                   
M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 72B also protects students with unpaid meal debt from public identification, embarrassment or any disciplinary action due solely to unpaid meal debt. M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 72B (b) states the following:

No agent, employee, or volunteer of a school or school district shall:

  • Take any action that would publicly identify a student when payment has not been received for a school meal or for meals previously served to the student;
  • Serve a student with unpaid meal debt an alternative meal that is not available to all students at the cafeteria;
  • Deny a student a meal as a form of behavioral discipline or punishment;
  • Dispose of an already served meal because of the student’s lack of funds to pay for the meal or because of unresolved meal debt;
  • Prohibit a student or a sibling of a student from attending or participating in non-fee based extracurricular activities, field trips or school events solely because of the student’s unresolved meal debt;
  • Prohibit a student from receiving grades, official transcripts, report cards or from graduating or attending graduation events solely based on unresolved meal debt; or
  • Require a parent or guardian to pay fees or costs in excess of the actual amounts owed for meals previously served to the student.

Needham Public Schools establishes the following goals: 

  • To establish a consistent District policy regarding the method of payment for meals, charge availability and collection methods for charges in the District’s meal program. 
  • To treat all students with dignity at all times. 
  • To mitigate student debt while trying to address student health and safety needs by not allowing any student to be food insecure.
  • To waive costs for students who are eligible and approved for free or reduced-price school meals after completing the Massachusetts Free and Reduced-Price School Meal Household Application or qualifying through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Health and Human Services, Virtual Gateway.  
  • To support positive interactions with students, parent(s)/guardian(s) and District staff to the maximum extent possible. 
  • To encourage the parent(s)/guardian(s) to assume the responsibility of payments and to promote self-responsibility of the student.

KEY TERMS

Reimbursable Meal: To qualify as a reimbursable meal, the meal must include a fruit and/or vegetable component. A meal consisting of at least three (3) of the five (5) offered meal components (grain, meat or meat alternative, fruit, vegetable and milk), at least one of which is a fruit or vegetable.

Second Meal: After a student receives their reimbursable meal for the day, a second portion of food is considered a second meal. Some examples of second meals are: additional slices of pizza, wrapped sandwiches or salad meals. Second meals are not part of the USDA program and do not qualify as a free or reduced-price meal and must be paid for at full price at the time of sale with cash or prepaid funds from the student’s account. Second meals are available at High Rock, Pollard, and the High School only.

A la Carte Items: Any single component of a meal, a snack, bottled water, seltzer, juice or milk priced individually, not as part of a reimbursable meal. A la carte items do not qualify for free or reduced price and must be paid for at the time of sale with cash or prepaid funds from the student’s account.

Charge: Purchasing a reimbursable meal or second meal without making payment at the time of sale with cash or prepaid funds from the student’s account. Charging a meal means that a student does not have funds to pay for a meal. Every student in the District has a school meal account. By School Committee policy, the student may purchase the meal on credit and charge it to their account. This creates a negative balance on their account. Students are not allowed to charge a la carte items including second meals.

Free or Reduced-Meal Eligibility: A reimbursable meal served at no cost to a student certified as eligible for such benefits.

Good Standing: A school meal account with a zero or positive balance.

Non-Reimbursable Meal: A non-reimbursable meal is purchased at the full price. Non-reimbursable meals are not part of the USDA program and do not qualify for free or reduced price and must be paid for at the time of sale with cash or prepaid funds from the student’s account. A non-reimbursable meal consists of fewer than three (3) of the five (5) offered meal components (grain, meat or meat alternative, fruit, vegetable and milk), or lacks a fruit and/or vegetable component.

Parent/Guardian Account: A login to the point of service system for parents/guardians that works in conjunction with their student’s school meal account. By accessing their student’s account, parents/guardians can view their student’s purchases and account balance at any time, set up balance notifications to be automatically sent by email, or make payment or prepayment on their account by credit card or e-check (an automatic deposit from a bank account).

Payment: Cash or check paid daily for school meals or a la carte items or with prepaid funds from the student’s account.

Prepayment: Funds on account. Pre-payment is accepted in the form of cash or check at any register or through the District’s online payment center, using a credit card or e-check.

School Meal Account: An account assigned to every student in the District whether or not they participate in the school meal program. Students participating in the school meal program access their account using a unique, 4- or 5-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) on PIN pads located at every register. School meal accounts maintain data required to be reported to federal and state agencies. Information pertaining to a student’s eligibility status is securely contained within the account to assure confidentiality.

Uncollectible Account: An account that has gone through the entire resolution process and remains not in good standing. The district will cover uncollectible, or “bad debt,” through an allocation from the operation budget, as required, by federal regulation 2 CFR 200.426.

METHOD OF PAYMENT

Needham Public Schools will accept pre-payment of school meals in the form of cash or check at the register or via the school meal online payment center. Cash for a daily meal will also be accepted at the register.

ADMINISTRATION OF POLICY

The District Administration is responsible for ensuring that the school meal accounts are properly managed and accurately reported. The District Administration will closely monitor student school meal accounts with the goal of eliminating negative balances and delinquent accounts.

Parent(s)/guardian(s) are strongly encouraged to register for a login to the District’s Point of Sale System, which gives access to parents/guardians to: 

  • View student transaction history; 
  •  Request email alerts for low balances; 
  •  Make payments and pre-payments to a student’s Nutrition Services account;
  •  Schedule payments to add funds to a student’s Nutrition Services account; and
  •  Set up automatic deposits to a student’s account.

The District Administration will provide at least an annual notice of how to access the online point of sale system. Parents may be assessed a nominal fee imposed by the third-party payment processor for making an online payment. This fee does not benefit Needham Public Schools.

STUDENT ACCOUNTS

Equitable Access to Student Meals:

Any student whose school meal account has a zero or negative balance will be allowed to charge a reimbursable meal. Charging a reimbursable meal will result in a negative balance on the student’s account until funds are added to the student’s account.

Second meals, non-reimbursable meals, and a la carte items are not part of the USDA program and must be paid for at full price at the time of sale with prepaid funds from the student’s account or cash as long as the account is in good standing. This applies to all students.

For Students with Free or Reduced School Meals Status: 

  • The federal school lunch program allows an eligible student to receive one free school lunch and breakfast, where available, every day. 
  • Students must select at least three of the five required components, including either a fruit or vegetable, for the meal to be provided free of charge.
  • Needham Public Schools will provide free meals to reduced price eligible students.

For Students with Full Paid School Meals Status: 

  • Prices for school meals are set by the Needham Public Schools’ School Committee, within the parameters of federal and state regulations. 
  • Students are expected to pay for meals at the time of sale with either pre-paid funds from their student account or cash, as long as the account is in good standing.
  • During the 2022-2023 school year, the State of Massachusetts will provide one free reimbursable school lunch and breakfast to all full-pay students. It is not known whether this benefit will continue beyond June 30, 2023.

Needham Public Schools will never deny access to a reimbursable breakfast or lunch daily, even if a student has insufficient funds in their account at the time of sale. The cost of the meal will be debited from the student's account.

Remaining Balances, Refunds, and Negative Balances

  • Prepaid student account balances which remain unspent at the end of a school year  may be used in the following school year if the student is still active.
  • For any student who has graduated or withdrawn from Needham Public Schools, a request will be sent to the household asking for the family’s written preference for: a refund, for the remaining balance to be transferred to a sibling, or for the balance to be donated to the Needham Public Schools Nutrition Services program for the purpose of offsetting the overall cost of meals. This request must be submitted to the Nutrition Services Department Bookkeeper in writing.
  • Unclaimed funds will follow the District’s Tailings Policy.
  • Negative balances will carry over from year-to-year until the child transitions to a new school (at Grades 5, 6, 8 and 12.) At the time of transition, the Building Principal will make a final attempt to collect the student’s unpaid balance.  If there is no resolution, the unpaid fees will be declared to be uncollectible and will be written off in the point of service system, with a report sent to the Business Office.  The Business Office will offset the uncollectable debt using operations budget resources.

MANAGEMENT SCOPE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR UNCOLLECTED MEAL CHARGES

  • The Nutrition Services Department will maintain records of charges and will notify the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) of low and/or negative account balances.
  • Management will make a direct certification eligibility determination for all students no less frequently than every 30 days, and will communicate affirmative determination to the families.
  • The Nutrition Services Department will provide information on applying for free/reduced priced meals, as well as local food and other assistance resources.
  • Management will highly encourage families to share determined benefit status to qualify for additional support for school activities, extracurricular programs, events, and further benefits allowing all Needham students to fully participate without regard to financial capability.
  • Management will write off uncollectible debt of students at Grades 5, 6, 8 and upon graduation from Needham High School.
  • Building Principals and Assistant Principals will support and assist the Nutrition Services Department in communicating with families.
  • Building Principals and Assistant Principals will offer a “check in” with the family, if needed, to inquire if the family is aware of available resources and benefits, and to offer support for resolving a situation.
  • Building Principals and Assistant Principals will make a final collection attempt upon transition to a new school or graduation from Needham High School.
  •  Business Office - Offsets bad debt in Nutrition Services with school operating funds.
  • Parent(s)/Guardian(s): Families are responsible for timely and responsive communication with the Nutrition Services Department and for making full payment of any outstanding or delinquent balance.

PROCEDURE FOR COLLECTING UNPAID MEAL CHARGES

On a weekly basis, the Point-of-Sale System will generate an automatic low balance alert email for all student accounts with a balance of $10.00 or less. (All information is imported from PowerSchool; any changes to email addresses or other pertinent information must be up to date.) 

Twice a week, the Point-of-Sale System will generate a negative balance alert email for all student accounts with a balance below $0.  These emails will contain links to resources such as the Free and Reduced Priced-Meals Application and other resources, as applicable

On a weekly basis, the Nutrition Services Department staff will call families and lend assistance with payment options and other food assistance resources in the area to all households of any student with a balance of -$20.00.

If payment has not been received within one week of the Nutrition Services Department contacting families regarding an overdue account, a certified letter will be sent to the household with a request for payment and information about additional resources.

If payment has not been received within two weeks following the certified letter, the Building Principal will contact the family.

The student’s unpaid debt will advance with the student to the next grade until such time as the student transitions to a new school (at Grade 5, 6, 8) or graduation from Needham High School. Upon transition, the Building Principal will make a final attempt to collect the student’s unpaid balance. If there is no resolution, the unpaid fees will be declared to be uncollectible and will be written off in the Point-of-Sale System, with a “write off” report sent to the Business Office. The Business Office will offset the uncollectible debt using operating budget resources.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

  • Needham Public School staff will encourage and assist families of students with financial need to complete an application for free or reduced-price meal benefits.
  • A breakfast/lunch will not be denied to any student based on inability to pay.
  • Unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables are available free of charge to any student who remains hungry after the lunch period.

CHECKS RETURNED FOR NON-SUFFICIENT FUNDS (NSF):

When a check is returned to the District Treasurer’s Office for Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF), a letter will be mailed from the Nutrition Services Department or the District Administration to inform the issuer. Payment for the NSF check must be in the form of cash, cashier’s check or money order. Payment must be received within ten (10) days of the date of the letter. Any bank fee imposed upon the District will be reimbursed to the District by the issuer.

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