EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 19, 2013

Timberlane sees drastic turnaround in food service

Timberlane, Hampstead turn around food services

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — After losing more than $150,000 on its food service contract last year, the Timberlane Regional School District is well on its way to turning things around.

The district has made $20,111 from food services as of the end of October. At the same time last year, it had lost $57,414.

“Our goal each year is just to break even,” Superintendent Earl Metzler said. “We were in the hole in both of our districts last year. We are pleased that in both districts we are up considerably.”

In Hampstead, food service had lost $20,088 at the end of October last year. This year, it has made $3,914.

Metzler credited the cafeteria managers as being a primary reason for the change.

“They have just done a fantastic job managing the kitchens this year,” he said. “We had spent a lot of time at sites and listening to concerns, but we have empowered them to really do it on their own, while getting a little help from Whitson’s, (the school’s contracted food service provider).”

One of the main reasons the districts lost so much money last year, he said, was because too many families carried negative account balances. This year, Metzler said, the district is strictly enforcing the policy on negative balances.

Middle and high school students are not allowed to carry a negative balance more than $20 on their student lunch account.

Any high school student with a negative balance over $20 will not be served. Middle school students in that situation will receive a meal, but will not be allowed to purchase a la carte items without cash.

The district is communicating more often with parents to alert them when they have a negative balance.

“It all comes down to communication,” Metzler said. “Now, the parents are more actively managing their accounts.”

Parents with a negative balance receive weekly email alerts. Letters are sent home if the negative balance is more than $20.

If a student is denied food because their balance is too low, Metzler said, there are often other ways to get them lunch.

“Sometimes an administrator will pay for the meals out of pocket,” he said. “They’ll then contact the parent and alert them to what happened.”

Kellie Farrington, who has a student at Hampstead Central School, said taking meals away from students is unfair.

“I don’t feel any child should be left without a lunch,” she said. “I don’t agree with that at all. I think there can still be better ways of notifying them if the account goes over.”

Rob Collins, chairman of the Timberlane School Board, said he was pleased with the changes he’s seen.

“It’s been excellent,” he said. “Things are running more smoothly and more efficiently that I can tell.”

More meals are being served, too.

Students have bought 14,327 more meals at Timberlane this year and 188 more meals at Hampstead.