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Washington County Public Schools meal prices going up 10 cents

School system's meal prices will remain the third-lowest prices in state among public school systems

April 03, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Darlena Wallech checks out Western Heights Middle School students during lunch time in the cafeteria. School meal prices will increase 10 cents next school year for Washington County Public School students.
Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Meal prices for Washington County Public Schools’ students and staff will increase for the third consecutive year, due mainly to cost increases such as food and paper supplies, Food and Nutrition Services Supervisor Jeff Proulx said.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the $10.7 million Food and Nutrition Services operating budget, which includes a 10-cent increase for school breakfasts and lunches for the new school year.

Meal prices increased 5 cents for this school year, and went up 10 cents for the 2011-12 school year.

“In the big picture, seeing three increases in a row for families is hard to swallow, but I think it’s a result, somewhat, of ... inflationary measures we see every day in our own personal lives that Washington County schools ... are not insulated from,” Proulx said in an interview after the board approved the Food and Nutrition Services budget.

Increasing energy costs and weather were big factors in food prices going up, Proulx said.

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A severe drought in the Midwest last summer left livestock dying in fields, and corn, which most livestock eat, withering in fields, he said.

Fuel is consumed in planting, harvesting, growing and transporting produce, Proulx said.

Lunch prices for elementary students will increase from $1.95 this school year to $2.05 next school year, according to a presentation document for Tuesday’s board meeting.

Lunch prices for secondary students will increase from $2.20 to $2.30, according to the document.

Proulx said 47 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, with about 70 percent of those students taking advantage of that right at least once a day.

The school system offers free breakfasts to students at 21 schools, regardless of the student’s family income level, Proulx said. The breakfast price increases only would affect traditional breakfast programs, he said.

A la carte food prices will not be set until this summer, Proulx said. Those prices are determined as a percentage of cost and the fair market value for the product, according to an email from Proulx.

The school system’s meal prices will remain the third-lowest prices in the state among public school systems, Proulx said.

Part of the meal-price increase was due to federal regulation, but there is legislation in Congress that could exempt the school system from that type of meal-price increase in the future, Proulx said.

The legislation would allow school systems with a positive fund balance for their food service budgets to forgo meal-price increases that are due to federal regulation that stemmed from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, Proulx said. If that passes and the school system has a positive fund balance, it only would increase meal prices when needed, he said.

Proulx said his department had a $1.2 million fund balance at the end of February, which would be enough to cover five weeks of operating costs if there was an interruption in funds. Surpluses from previous years’ operating budgets go into the fund balance.

The public school food program is exempt from federal sequester cuts, for now, he said.

Asked why he didn’t want to dip into the fund balance, Proulx said every business wants to keep some operating funds for unexpected costs.

“Five weeks of operating funds doesn’t go very far,” Proulx said.

Food and Nutrition Services is expected to have a $112,810 loss this fiscal year, according to the presentation document.

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