Rising School Lunch Prices 
By Alex Saitta 
May 22, 2013 
 
 
Price Increases: 
Most read the story of how lunches for students who pay full price will increase by 5 cents next year. For elementary school students the cost of a lunch will rise to $1.80 and for middle and high school meals the cost will be $2.05.  
 
That increase follows a 10-cent increase this year, and a 5 cents last year.  
 
Federal Program: 
Students who are served lunch fall into three categories. Students from lowest income families receive their lunches for free, others buy their lunch at a reduced cost and the remaining pay full price. The federal government subsidies the free and reduced lunches the district serves through the National School Lunch Program.  
 
A couple of years ago the federal government realized some districts were using their free and reduced lunch subsidies to keep the lunch prices for fully paying students artificially low and below the cost to prepare those meals. For instance, the federal government deems it cost about $2.60 per lunch and the district was charging 50 to 75 cents below that for full paying students.  
 
The feds then mandated districts like ours increase their meal prices each year, moving them closer to the actual cost incurred to prepare the meal. The bottom line is when a local government starts taking federal money, the federal government then tell the local government what to do. I think when the US economy finally collapses, it will be due to a federal government that has grown too big and unaffordable and such federal mandates like this will be one of the root causes.   
 
Windfall For Food Service: 
The 5-cent increase in 2011-12 raised an additional $45,717 for the districtís food service department. The 10-cent increase this year is raising an additional $67,544 in revenue. Next yearís 5-cent increase will boost food service revenue another $39,000. Doing the math, thatís an extra $152,000 a year, each year, going into the coffers of the districtís food service department. 
 
Complaints: 
Over time board members have fielded complaints about declining food quality, portions and taste in school lunches, so starting last year the board has asked the district administration to conduct an annual employee survey of the food service program. This year another six schools were surveyed. Eighty-eight percent responded they were satisfied with the service in their schoolís cafeteria. Seventy-Six responded they were satisfied with the overall cafeteria environment at their school (cleanliness, noise level, appearance). However, only about 50% were satisfied with the food. In particular 51% were satisfied with the taste, 52% with the quality, 48% with the choices offered and 45% said the portions served were too small.   
 
If the décor of an elementary cafeteria outscores the taste of the food by more than 25 percentage points, thatís a problem. By the way, sixty-three percent of the employees stated they ate in the cafeteria at their school less than once a week or never. Another bad sign. 
 
Windfall Used To Improve The Product: 
Given the board had no choice on the price increase, it did vote all the extra revenue from the three price increases (about $152,000 a year) had to be invested in improving the quality, taste, portions and choices of food. If the price of meals is going to have to rise, I thought, students and employees should get a better product in return.  
 
The districtís food service department is working on a list of ways it will use that $152,000 a year windfall to improve their lunches served. Hopefully, that will be presented to the board in the next month or so.  
 
Conclusion: 
I didn't vote for the first two lunch increases. I wasn't going to support all that extra money (that windfall) just being dumped into the food service budget to be spent any way they wanted in the face of those glaring survey results. If prices for lunch and breakfast have to be raised, the department is then going to have to give the customer a better product for their money/ improve customer satisfaction in terms of the quality, quantity, taste and choices in the food served.  
 
 
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