The price of school lunches in Unicoi County Schools will increase by 25 cents in the 2012-13 school year following a unanimous vote by the Unicoi County Board of Education on Thursday to approve the increase.
The price increase relates to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, passed in 2010. Maggie Fair, school nutrition supervisor for Unicoi County Schools, told the board that one of the components of this act is “paid lunch equity,” which means paid lunch prices must equal what the school system is reimbursed through the government for free and reduced lunches, minus the reimbursement for paying students.
The current federal reimbursement amount is $2.79, while the reimbursement for paying students is 28 cents.
“It’s going to be raised at least 14 cents minimum, there’s no way around that one,” Fair said prior to the board’s vote.
Fair said the increases took place over a period of three years, and the 2012-13 school year would represent the system’s second year. She also said the system went over its budget by $22,000 for food. Increased food and delivery costs have also contributed to the need for a lunch price increase, according to Fair.
Fair said there are other regulations that go along with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that are affecting lunch prices. School systems must meet certain requirements, including calorie and whole grain requirements in lunches, Fair said. She also said the school system will offer fruit at breakfast in one-cup servings and must offer fruits and vegetables in lunches.
To help the parents affected by the increases, Fair said a la carte item prices would be reduced.
“So, if anybody’s been in the grocery store, you know that’s not one of the cheaper things to buy,” Fair said prior to the board’s vote. “So to help offset this with parents, we’ve asked for a quarter raise, but we’re hoping to also have the approval of the board, from the middle school down, to lower the a la carte prices because this is also affecting the paying students a lot of times. We are not going to be able to do this at the high school because, for one, there’s no way to regulate whether students buy a reimbursable meal, and to survive as a school food service, we have to have the reimbursable meal first.”
With the increase, the price of paid lunches at the elementary school level would increase from $1.75 to $2 and would increase from $2 to $2.25 at the middle school and high school levels. The school system will continue to offer the universal breakfast program in all of its schools, which is free to all the students. However, the cost of a second breakfast would increase from $1.50 to $1.80, the reimbursement rate provided by the government.