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Posted: March 14, 2013 8:55 p.m.

School lunch prices may increase

An increase in student lunch prices may soon be on the way as the Newton County Board of Education reviewed Tuesday a proposed 10-cent increase to paid lunch prices, as opposed to free and reduced, for students for the 2013-14 fiscal school year, which begins July 1.

Jan Loomans, director of operational services for the Newton County School System, said elementary school lunch prices would increase from $1.60 to $1.70, and secondary school lunches would go from $1.85 to $1.95. Breakfast meal prices will remain at the current level and not change.

Adult lunch meal prices will remain at $3, as they were increased from $2.75 to $3 last school year, Loomans said.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which passed in December 2010, included an amendment called the

National School Lunch Program: School Food Service Account Revenue.

The amendment required schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, which Newton County schools do, to ensure sufficient funds are provided to the nonprofit school food service account for meals served to students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Under the USDA rule, there were two ways for schools to meet the requirement, either through prices charged for paid meals or through other non-federal sources provided to the nonprofit school food service account.

Newton County schools are increasing paid meals prices. Loomans explained the changes that needed to be made when the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 went into effect in 2010.

“It’s based on the fact that we get a certain amount of reimbursement per student for free or reduced and for paid,” Loomans said. “And the paid amount (we receive) is like 27 cents a meal for lunch.

“So basically, what the USDA has said is that over the next 10 years, we have to — all school districts have to — increase that paid lunch price up to the point where the amount of money that we are receiving for the paid meals is equal to the amount of money that we receive for our free meals because right now, the free meal reimbursement subsidizes the paid.”

Loomans said school systems have previously used their a la carte sales — which were single item sales, such as the purchase of an orange or a carton of milk — to subsidize the cost of the paid meal.

However, she said under the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the USDA has said school systems can’t subsidize the paid meal any other way except through donations or the 27 cents paid meal reimbursement.

“So they are taking away from us the ability to find any other sources of the revenue to subsidize those paid meals,” Loomans said.

Over the next eight years, the School Lunch Program meal prices for paid lunches must increase to an amount equal to the federal reimbursement rate for free meals less the paid meal reimbursement of 27 cents.

The target meal price for the 2014 fiscal year is $2.59 for paid meals. The USDA annually provides school food authorities a paid lunch equity calculator, which calculates the required price increase.

Based on this tool, the required increase for the 2014 fiscal year is 8 cents.

Loomans said the recommended 10-cent increase helps keep prices even at the register when students go through to pay for their lunches.

“We don’t have time to hand out all the pennies when we rush the kids through,” she said. “So, what we do is go up to $1.70 (from $1.60).”

Loomans said every school year, the USDA sends the school system a spreadsheet calculator, where she puts in the number of meals for each price level and then it generates the revenue.

She explained the process school systems use to get their numbers is set up by the USDA.

The Newton County School System is in its third year of increases, and Loomans said it’s almost guaranteed prices will increase for the next seven years in order to meet the requirements of the USDA.

“Unfortunately, we have to increase our prices based on the paid lunch equity calculator,” Loomans said.

A vote on the recommended increase will take place during the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on March 19.

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