Computers to help track cash transactions in Portland school cafeterias

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PORTLAND — The School Department is installing computerized cafeteria terminals that will make it easier to track cash transactions – a need highlighted by an audit of the 2008 budget.

The system is being installed at all mainland and island schools. The cost of the hardware and software totals more than $75,000, according to food services Director Ron Adams.

Instead of using cash, each of Portland’s nearly 8,000 students will be able to pay for their lunches simply by entering their student identification number, which is also used to access computers and check-out library books.

The computerized system will allow parents to pay for their children’s lunches days, weeks or months in advance.

“We’re trying to encourage parents to do that,” Adams said.

Since the system will also make it easier and more efficient for school staff to keep up-to-date and accurate records, parents will also be able to get detailed reports about where the money has been spent.

“It pretty much takes the paper system they’ve used for years and puts it into a computer,” Adams said. “It’s much more accurate. It gives that paper trail. If a parent gives us $50, we can tell them exactly what happened to it.”

The lack of a system to track cash deposits was flagged in an audit of school finances for fiscal 2008. Although the system will help the schools comply with the auditors’ recommendation, Adams said the new system is not a reaction to the audit.

“They were concerned that we didn’t have anything to tie our cash deposits to. This certainly tightens it up from what they have been doing,” Adams said. “It’s been on the plan for a number of years, (but) this is the first time we’ve had the funding to do it.”

Rolling out the new system has proved to be a challenge. Four schools have switched to the new system: Longfellow and Riverton elementary schools, and Portland and Deering high schools.

“There are some bumps here and there,” Adams said. “But those four are going.”

Adams said he hopes to have all of the new systems installed by the end of October.

Meal prices are $1 for breakfast, $2 for kindergarten through fifth-grade lunch and $2.25 for sixth through 12th-grade lunch. Extra milk costs 30 cents.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or