School meal prices may increase next year by 5 cents in order to meet the requirements of federal legislation passed last year.
Kathy Hamby, Cumberland County School Nutrition Program supervisor, said, "For a long time, the students receiving free lunch has sort of carried the full-pay students."
Hamby explained that, using the highest student lunch price of $1.95 at the high school level, the federal government reimburses the school system 28 cents for a full-pay student lunch. A lunch served to a student receiving free lunch is reimbursed at $2.76.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law in December looks to close that gap through the provision titled, "equity in school lunch pricing."
"At a minimum, the school district, starting July 1, 2011, will be required to raise lunch prices 5 cents every year until those catch up," Hamby said.
The change would increase student lunch prices to $1.70 for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and $2 for students in high school.
Hamby said, "Some school districts have decided to raise prices a larger amount, 25 cents, 50 cents, and just go ahead and close that gap. All I'm asking the school board for, because we have a lot of parents in this county having a hard time, and the school nutrition budget can balance and even have a small, small surplus by just having a 5 cent increase."
In April, 60 percent of Cumberland County's students were on the free lunch program while 9 percent were on the reduced price lunch program. There is about an 80 percent participation rate in the student lunch program.
Student breakfast prices would remain at $1.
Hamby is also requesting an increase in adult meal prices. Adult meals have not been increased since 2005 and, according to USDA, are not meeting required levels. Current prices are $2.25 for lunch and $1.25 for breakfast for teachers and staff. Hamby proposes increasing those to $2.50 for lunch and $1.50 for breakfast for teachers and staff and $3 for visitor lunch and $2 for visitor breakfast.
"The USDA stressed we have to increase our adult meal prices to at least the minimum of what USDA guidelines say," Hamby said.
The price increases will be up for consideration by the BOE at it's May 23 meeting.
Hamby also noted that while the school system was in compliance for nutritional requirements this past year, changes to menus will be needed in the future to meet more stringent calorie limits.
"The state has advised that what many school systems are doing is dropping the dessert options," Hamby said.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, asked if students were developing healthier eating habits.
Hamby said the school nutrition personnel try to encourage students to try new items a few times, and that the program has had success introducing new items on the line after giving students a taste through the fresh fruits and vegetables grant programs.
"We had been trying to get them to eat baked sweet potatoes and they weren't picking them up," Hamby said. "But then we gave them raw sweet potatoes and one of the managers said you have to slice them real thin. And, once they did that, the kids loved them. So, on the serving line next year, for all the students, they're going to have fresh, sliced sweet potatoes."
Hamby said other health food moves that have been made include baking most foods, such as chicken nuggets, and using trans-fat free cooking oil when frying was done.
"And, surprisingly, the kids didn't really notice when we went from 2 percent milk to 1 percent milk," Hamby said.
That's kept the program ahead of changes in nutrition regulations, Hamby said, noting that 2 percent milk couldn't be served in schools starting next year.
"We're just looking for healthier versions of things we know the kids will eat and introducing some non-traditional items," she said.