August 3, 2011
Meal prices going up 10 cents in city schools
Breakfast and lunch prices will go up by 10 cents for 2011-12 in the Cortland city school district and the food on students’ trays will include more nutritious choices, as a federal law takes effect.
The city Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to raise prices to $1.35 for breakfast and $1.45 for lunch, as the federal government requires that school districts charge more for paid meals.
The federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 will require that school districts raise lunch prices and provide more fruits and vegetables, more whole-grain foods and more fat-free or 1 percent fat milk, phasing out whole and 2 percent milk.
Meal prices must be raised, the act says, to be closer to $2.46, the price that a U.S. Department of Agriculture study estimates is the amount of food used for each lunch on average across the nation.
But districts do not have to raise prices more than 10 cents per year, 5 cents per year if the prices were already $1.60 to $2.45.
The study found that federal subsidies for free and reduced-price meals have paid for the bulk of school districts’ food programs, allowing them to keep paid lunch prices low — to an extent the government says it can no longer afford, said Wendy Swift, food service director.
Swift, the food services director for eight districts through Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES shared services, including all Cortland County districts, gave the board an update on Cortland’s plans.
The Cortland district was reimbursed $2.83 per free lunch last year and $2.46 per reduced-price lunch, which costs an eligible student 25 cents. The district was reimbursed $1.67 per paid lunch or 32 cents above what students paid, Swift told the board.
The subsidy amount for breakfasts was not available.
Swift took over the food service three years ago, when it was losing money, and through purchasing food in a consortium and changes in management, the food service made a profit of $4,564 for 2010-11.
Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said the school district had 1,087 students getting free lunch and 174 receiving reduced lunch in 2010-11, a total of 46 percent of the enrollment.
The city district raised its prices by 10 cents last year. Its lunch price was still the lowest in Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES.
The good news is that Cortland schools were already introducing more nutrition into school lunches in the past three years, Swift said. Fried foods, 2 percent milk and white bread were reduced, starting then.
“The government wants 50 percent whole-grain products, and Cortland already is at about 90 percent,” Swift told the board. She said the district had already phased out whole and 2 percent milk.
City schools will add more helpings of fruit and vegetables to lunches, and students must have fruit on their trays when they pass the cash register, although Swift said she hopes students would not throw away the fruit once they stepped away from the serving line.
Swift said the amount of sugar and sodium in school meals is still a problem. She has added cereals with reduced sugar to the breakfast options but thinks students will not eat them. She said cold cereal is not a popular food item for breakfasts, as students choose hot foods.
Board member LouAnne Ten Kate asked if school gardens could help to supply vegetables. Swift said yes, although the growing season is short in this region. She said LaFayette schools grow garlic for their lunches.
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