Lunch money theft prompts cafeteria changes
NEW CANAAN — The August arrest of a former New Canaan High School lunch lady for allegedly stealing over $300,000 from the cafeteria has prompted the school to make some changes this school year.
“The changes we put in place were around how we manage the cash in the cafeteria,” said New Canaan Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi.
Many of the improvements are to act as preventative measures, ranging from the time students hand over cash to buy food to when the cash is deposited in the bank, he said.
“When we put those new controls in place, we can begin to see discrepancies between previous deposits and the deposits now,” Luizzi said.
Some of the changes were based on practices used in retail, such as a blind close. Lunch cashiers will now ring up sales, and at the end of the shift they count out their drawer.
“What makes it blind is they don’t know how much is supposed to be there,” Luizzi said. “They only know how much is actually there.”
However, staff members at central office know the exact amount that should be in the bag, he said. They then compare this again the system to make sure the numbers match.
“That’s one way to have a control around the cash that is collected and put in the bag,” he said.
Another change involves ensuring a cashier uses the same register for their entire shift.
Several of these changes were already in the works when it was discovered money had been stolen this summer, Luizzi said.
“It’s actually the changes we put in place that told us these things were going on,” he said.
To ensure procedures are being followed, there will also now be surprise audits in each of the New Canaan Public School cafeterias.
“Instead of waiting for an outside auditing firm to come in to do an audit, we’ll send our team to make sure these procedures are being followed,” Luizzi said. “There’s tight controls around all of that now.”
In addition to the changes in the cafeteria system, employees will have to conduct point-of-sale training. The reluctance to move to the new system by some employees was alarming, Luizzi said.
“That was a little sign that maybe something was off,” he said. “That made us re-double our efforts to make sure these things were all in place.”
Additional cameras have also been installed in the cafeteria. With the changes behind the scenes also come visible changes to the cafeteria — students no longer have to use the cafeteria’s ticketing system.
“We got rid of that, so there are fewer bottlenecks in the system so students can get their food faster,” he said.
Regarding the stolen money, the school filed an insurance claim and was reimbursed. Luizzi said he spoke with First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and agreed the money will be held until the ongoing court case involving the accused lunch lady, Mary Wilson, is over.
“I’d like to see some of it, if not most, reinvested into the program for the benefit of kids,” Luizzi said.