Costs push school lunch prices higher

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Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2011 1:57 pm

High supply costs coupled with a change in federal reimbursement rules are forcing many area school districts to raise lunch prices in the fall.

Keene schools will charge a quarter more - up to $2.25 at the city's five elementary schools and $2.50 at the middle and high schools.

Schools in the Jaffrey-Rindge district will charge 10 cents more - up to $2.35 at its two elementary schools and $2.60 at the middle and high schools.

The Monadnock Regional district has not set its lunch prices for the coming year but is looking at a 20- to 25-cent increase, said Thomas A. Walsh, director of nutrition services for the district.

Monadnock covers the towns of Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Sullivan, Swanzey and Troy.

Prices now are $1.75 at the elementary schools and $2.20 at the middle and high school. Any increase must be approved by the school board.

Walsh said it's been about seven years since the district last raised lunch prices. "We've tried to hold it as long as we possibly could," he said.

But higher transportation and food costs - bread alone went up 20 percent this year - forces the increase this year, he said. "No one likes price increases, but most people will realize that food has gone up and what we supply to the kids is very expensive," Walsh added.

A recent change in federal rules adds to the pricing woes. Schools now must bring their paid lunch prices - what students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch are paying - more in line with the federal reimbursements of $2.72 for free-lunch students, according to a memo from the regional office of the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.

In some schools, federal reimbursements for free or reduced lunch were offsetting the cost of paid lunches that were priced below the cost of producing the meal, according to the memo.

The largest price increase required under the new rule is 10 cents, but schools that are charging too little must gradually increase their prices over time.

Schools with high enough prices already will not be required to raise them further. For instance, schools in the Fall Mountain district already charge $3 for lunch and will not raise prices for the coming year, according to Jamie J. Teague, the district's business administrator.

Fall Mountain covers the towns of Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole.

Like Monadnock, the Conval Regional district also hasn't set its prices for the coming year but is looking at an increase in the elementary schools' lunch price, said Donna T. Reynolds, food service director there.

Lunch is currently $2.25. The district charges $2.75 for lunch at the middle schools and $3.25 at the high school.

Conval covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple.

The district raised its prices twice in 2009 and again last year at the high school due to higher food costs. With declining enrollment, Reynolds said, it has cut back on food service workers to make up for higher food and transportation costs.

The federal regulation change will affect prices at the elementary schools. The middle and high school's prices are already high enough and won't have to be adjusted, she said.

Abby Spegman reports for The Keene Sentinel and can be reached at 603-352-1234, extension 1409, or aspegman@keenesentinel.com.

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