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School lunches going up

May 02, 2001

School lunches going up



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education voted Tuesday to increase the prices of school lunches and a la carte menu items for the first time in four years.

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School lunches are going up a dime for all grade levels, while a la carte items will increase 5 cents to 15 cents each. The cost of lunches for staff members will go up a dime.

A la carte items include ice cream, cake, pie, pizza, breadsticks, nachos, fruit, vegetables, sandwiches and super cheese pretzels.

The price of breakfast will remain $1 at all grade levels.

The increases will go into effect next school year.

Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said the increases are necessary to meet rising food and labor costs.

She said costs have increased by more than $1 million since 1997 while lunch prices have remained unchanged.

New prices for elementary lunches will be $1.40. Middle and high school lunches will cost $1.65, and staff lunches will cost $2.85.

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Mowen said Gary Dodds, the supervisor of food and nutrition services, considered raising school lunches for the current school year, but the school system was able to delay the increases until next year.

"I'm afraid there's nothing left to squeeze out for next year," Dodds said Tuesday morning.

The increases are expected to generate about $429,000 more than the current school year's food budget of $5.4 million. Next year's budget, which was approved Tuesday night, is set at $5.8 million.

The food budget is self-supporting: Its expenses are paid by revenue it receives from school lunches, breakfasts and a la carte items. The Board of Education does not subsidize the food budget.

"The goal of the food service director is to run the program to break even each year," Mowen said.

Dodds said Washington County is among the lowest in the state in its breakfast and lunch prices.

He said lunch and a la carte prices remain reasonable partly because the majority of food service employees do not receive health benefits. He said 102 food service workers do not receive health benefits, while the remaining 77 receive coverage.

"If I became too liberal and gave out health benefits, we would have to charge students higher (prices)," Dodds said. "My job is to keep the price as low as possible and the quality up."

Dodds said most food service employees are covered by their spouses' insurance policies.

School lunches would have to be raised to an average of $1.80 to $1.85 to pay for health benefits for all food service employees, he said.

"There's always a price to pay," Dodds said. "I'm not sure how the parents would feel about that."

School Board member Paul Bailey said he'd like to see all food service workers receive health benefits.

"Mr. Dodds, I have a problem with that," he said. "We're talking about a group of people who, in my esteem, are...in greatest need for some type of protection."

Board member Doris Nipps said that not all food employees work at least six hours a day, so they would not qualify for benefits.

Nipps and Dodds said that if benefits were provided for all food service workers, the school system would have to do the same for all of its employees who work under six hours a day.

Dodds said he expects the number of lunch sales to drop 5 percent to 8 percent during next school year's first three months because of the price raise.

He expects some parents will be unhappy over the increase and pack lunches for their children at the beginning of the year.

"After they realize the work involved, they'll go back to our lunches," Dodds said.

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