Manatee school board to consider raising lunch prices for students

mdelaney@bradenton.comMay 26, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School Board will consider raising school lunch prices another 5 cents for students this year during its meeting Tuesday night.

The proposal would raise lunch prices for elementary students from $2 to $2.05 and middle and high school student lunches from $2.25 to $2.30.

The proposal would not increase the price district employees pay for lunch. The proposal also does not recommend increasing breakfast prices.

"We have to evaluate paid meal prices every year," said Sandra Ford, Manatee County School District director of food and nutrition.

In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, requiring school districts to bridge the gap between the reimbursement rate districts receive for free and reduced-price meals and the price of a regular meal.

This year, the school district is reimbursed a little less than $3 per free and reduced lunch. About 60 percent of students in the district participate in the free and reduced-price lunch pro

gram, bringing in about $15 million for the food services program, Ford said.

Food services is a $26 million program that provides 34,000 lunches, 16,000 breakfasts and 1,800 suppers each school day. The department has 375 employees.

To comply with federal law, the price of a regular lunch must be raised to bridge the gap between the cost of a regular lunch and the reimbursement rate for the free and reduced lunch.

The law allows for gradual change, with 10 cents the maximum average amount to be raised in one year. Calculations for districts are done by the Florida Department of Agriculture. This year, the increase for Manatee schools should be 8 cents according to the formula, Ford said.

Districts are allowed to round down to the nearest 5 cents, according to the law, which is why Ford is proposing a 5-cent increase.

Ford predicts the cost of regular lunch prices will continue to rise incrementally each year as the reimbursement rate for free and reduced price lunches also rises every year.

"The gap is always going to be there," she said.

Ford did not propose to raise the price of breakfast or adult meals for the 2014-15 year. The price of adult lunches went up 15 cents last year from $2.85 to $3, so another raise is not necessary this year, Ford said.

Participation in the breakfast program is not nearly as high as in the lunch program, so raising breakfast prices would bring in minimal additional revenue for the district, Ford said.

Ford estimates raising school lunch prices will bring in $72,000 more per year. Food services program revenues are required to stay within the program and the money will cover increases in food costs and possibly bringing in some additional food options for students.

"We reinvest it in the program," Ford said.

District lunch prices are on par with surrounding counties for the 2013-14 year. Manatee County charges less than seven counties for student lunches and more than six counties. Surrounding counties will probably raise prices for the 2014-15 year to comply with the law, Ford said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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