Lunch prices have been on the rise across the nation for several years, after former President Barack Obama signed the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. One provision of the law requires school districts to incrementally increase lunch prices to bring them in line with what the federal government reimburses schools for low income students’ free meals, which is currently $2.92.
Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said the federal government made this change with the idea that the government’s Free and Reduced Lunch Program should not be subsidizing the cost of full paid lunches. Many school districts had been keeping lunch prices artificially low and making up the difference using federal dollars intended to fund meals for low income families.
In addition to the mandated price increases, the Act has changed school lunches by requiring bread and pasta products to be 100 percent whole grain and requiring one half cup of fruit and/or vegetable to be on each tray. Districts also must provide a weekly subgroup of vegetables such as dark green, red/orange, and beans/peas.
Longtime school board member Gayle Weber said the school board wasn’t happy about having to increase lunch rates, but to comply with the law they have raised rates six times over the past seven years. In 2007-2008, school lunch prices in STMA were $1.95 for K-5 and $2.05 for 6-12; this was before grade 5 was part of the middle school. The rate stayed the same until three years later, when prices went up $.10 per meal in 2010-2011. Lunch prices have risen every year but one since then, when the district was granted a waiver in 2013-14 to maintain rates for one year.
Current lunch prices are now $2.50 for grades K-4 and $2.65 for grades 5-12. That is a cost increase of 28 percent for elementary students and 29 percent for older grades since the mandated increases began. Foucault said the district will file for a waiver for next school year, and if granted they will be allowed to maintain current lunch prices for the 2017-18 school year.
As lunch prices have risen, so too has the fund balance for the food service fund. Food Service Director Delores Helgeson said the food service fund balance has been increasing about $150,000-$175,000 per year. Foucault said that rising costs such as higher food costs to meet nutrition requirements, additional food staff training requirements and upgrades to kitchen equipment has mostly kept pace with the additional funds brought in through higher lunch prices. She said the food service fund balance should not exceed a six-month operating expenditure fund balance requirement, which is about $1.5 million. They are anticipating a fund balance of just over $1.1 million at the end of this fiscal year, June 30.
Recent kitchen updates that have been funded through the food service fund include:
Albertville Primary: serving line remodeled to accommodate all-day students
Fieldstone Elementary: replaced a combi oven
High School and both middle schools: combi ovens added to accommodate larger student populations
Both middle schools: additional line added at each school to accommodate more students
The district will remodel the Community Education’s kitchen this year to make it usable once again. This will include a new dishwasher, oven, holding unit and serving lines. Lunch is currently transported from St. Michael Elementary to the Community Ed. Center for the Just For Kids all day preschool students and Knights Academy alternative high school students who eat there.