Constables Won't Actually Collect School Lunch Debt
But the officials will hand-deliver 30 day notices warning of court action if balances are not addressed.
The School Committee has voted to send constables to the homes of families who have unpaid lunch tabs since June of 2010 of $100 or more, which as of last week totaled $10,900.
But constables aren’t allowed to collect debts unless a court has made a judgement, according to local attorney Richard Plouffe who has an email from the president of the Mass Bay Constables Association saying just that.
So what exactly are the constables going to be hired to do?
They will hand-deliver notices giving families 30 days to contact the schools and pay the balance or make a plan to pay down the balance in installments, or face court action, according to School Committee Chairwoman Suzy Littlefield.
Littlefield said she and School Committee Vice Chairwoman Diane Campbell met Tuesday with members of the Audit Committee who are investigating the school business department’s handling of the lunch debt.
“I was able to report that we are making progress,” she said.
A new online NutriKids plan is set to begin in all the schools by next week, and a strict policy that no lunches will be sold to students whose families do not have a positive balance in their accounts has been put into place.
“The debt is not growing. We are dealing with the problem,” Littlefield said.
The lunch policy caused some confusion during the first week of school, however, when a few elementary students arrived at school with no bagged lunch and unable to purchase a meal in the cafeteria.
“It breaks my heart to see kids put in the middle of this,” Littlefield said. But she stressed that principals made personal phone calls to families who still had outstanding balances and letters and emails went out to every student’s home explaining the new policy.
“Forget about paying the bill or setting up an account, all you had to do was pack a lunch,” she said.
Parent Teacher Organizations in at least two of the elementary schools provided lunches for the students who had no meal last Thursday, but that practice could not have continued even if the PTOs had chosen to because of Health Department regulations, according to Littlefield.
While Littlefield said the schools are making progress on collecting the approximately $80,000 still owed on lunches, there is approximately $3,500 in old debt from at least two years ago that she said will be very difficult to collect.
Littlefield said that debt has been left by families who have moved away from town and have not been located.
Plouffe, the local attorney who went before the School Committee last week, had offered to buy that debt from the department at a reduced price, and then attempt to collect himself and make a profit.
“I’d take that bet, so to speak,” he said Tuesday.
Littlefield reiterated that the schools would not sell the debt, however.
And Plouffe has said he is no longer interested in working with the school department.
But he still wants answers.
In a letter sent to Superintendent Bella T. Wong and the School Committee last week, a copy of which was also sent to Wellesley Patch, Plouffe asks whether the accounts still exist on the $3,500 worth of old debt.
He also asks for specific privacy statues that would prohibit him from looking at the still outstanding accounts.
“Do the written accounts still exist or was this actually a computer glitch and you lost the information on who owed the money?” he asks in his letter.
Wong has maintained that student confidentiality provisions in the law would prohibit her from allowing the names of those who owe money to be made public before a court judgement was made.
Plouffe said he made several attempts to get answers to his questions from Business Manager Ruth Quinn Berdell, but did not get a response, prompting him to go publicly before the School Committee and now public with his questions.