Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 17, 2012

School lunch prices could be going up

MEADVILLE — Parents in Crawford Central and PENNCREST school districts should be prepared to budget a bit more for school lunches when the 2012-13 school year rolls around.

Both districts are facing increased expenses as they comply with new standards for healthier school meals put into place under the recently enacted federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Under the new regulations, for example, students must be offered both fruits and vegetables every day; offerings of whole-grain foods must be substantially increased; only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties may be offered; calories must be limited based on the age of the children to ensure proper portion size; and increased focus must be placed on reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, changes must be phased in over a three-year period starting with the 2012-13 school year. Schools will be allowed to focus on bringing lunches into compliance with the new regulations during the coming school year while phasing in most breakfast changes later.

Crawford Central School Board is scheduled to vote Monday on increasing school lunch prices from the current $1.75 to $2.40 for elementary students and from the current $1.85 to $2.50 for high school students.

“I’ll support the increase as long as (the lunch program) is in the black,” school board member Mitch Roe remarked when the proposed increase was discussed during the board’s recent work session. “As soon as it’s in the red, we stop serving. Let them brown-bag it.”

PENNCREST, which currently charges $2 for both elementary and high school lunches, will raise its prices to $2.50 for elementary students and $2.60 for high schoolers. The increase was approved by PENNCREST School Board by an 8-0 vote during its recent monthly meeting; Harold Shorts was absent.

“This (increase) is as a direct result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,” PENNCREST Superintendent Connie Youngblood said Tuesday. “One of the goals is to get the price of the lunch into line with the actual cost.”

Even with new prices in place, the district’s cafeterias aren’t expected to break even during the coming year; in fact, the cafeteria budget passed during PENNCREST’s recent meeting anticipates a deficit of $68,992 to be funded from the district’s general operating fund. In an effort to reduce expenses, the cafeteria budget includes switching from full cooking facilities in each school to establishing “satellite” operations.

Neighboring school districts have long used cooking kitchens at some schools to supply satellite kitchens at others. Cooking kitchens at Meadville and Cochranton high schools, for example, also supply satellite kitchens at all Crawford Central School District’s elementary schools. However, this will be PENNCREST’s first “satellite” venture.

Youngblood noted that PENNCREST’s plan calls for eliminating one cooking kitchen in each of its three attendance areas. As for which three kitchens would become satellite facilities,  “We have the flexibility that we can cook at either elementary or high school,” she said.

A key reason for the dramatic increase in the cost of providing lunches, according to Youngblood, is that the federal program requires schools to provide larger portions of fruits and vegetables. “We must put them on the plate, not just have them available,” she explained. “We’re anticipating a lot of waste.”

PENNCREST’s cafeteria budget also anticipates a 15 percent reduction in paid lunch participation due to the price increase — a decrease that will at least temporarily allow the district to eliminate one cashier at each secondary school. “Whenever you do anything new, we usually figure in a time period when people move away from the service and opt to pack their lunch,” Youngblood explained. “Oftentimes what happens is that when school starts and kids get into the routine, they come back.”

While Conneaut School District administrators have met with their food service providers, no recommendations have been made to the school board.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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