05/07/08 — Lunch prices could go to $2

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Lunch prices could go to $2

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 7, 2008 1:52 PM

The price of school lunches in Wayne County Public Schools will go up next year, prompted by rising fuel, labor and food costs, officials say.

Despite efforts of several school board members to keep the increase at bay Monday night, they could not argue with the fact that food and supply costs have risen 30 percent this year and are estimated to jump another 10 percent in the 2008-09 school year.

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, told the board the self-supporting child nutrition program is operating in a deficit.

"We have not asked for any kind of major increase since 2005," she said. "It's getting to the point it's getting critical that we have to look at the lunch prices."

According to recent figures, the program expenses exceed revenues by an estimated $153,000. Even with the proposed changes, the district will still barely break even, Mrs. Barwick said.

Recommendations were for breakfast to go up a quarter for students in K-12, from $1 to $1.25, and instead of $1.25 per adult, would be priced ala carte. Lunch prices, currently $1.25 for K-5 and $1.50 for grades 6-12, would be raised to $2; the $2.50 adult lunches would be priced ala carte.

The move is in line with what other districts in the region are recommending, Mrs. Barwick said, noting that those not making the change already charge higher prices than Wayne County.

Board members debated the change at length before voting to include the price changes in the schools' upcoming handbooks. But not without a few reservations.

Finance committee chairman Rick Pridgen approached it from a business standpoint.

"This fuel situation really frightens me. I know we're going to be experiencing some major price increases in the food just because of the transportation costs," he said.

Still, he said, he couldn't help but be sensitive to the constraints an increase would place on families.

"We have a lot of people that qualify for free and reduced lunch and probably always will have that," he said, expressing particular concern about those hesitant to take advantage of the defrayed meal costs.

Board member Pete Gurley said he was also reluctant, especially when considering families with several children in school.

"It makes a big difference in the course of a year," he said. "I really hate to see it done but I don't think we have any choice."

Board member John Grantham said he was not in favor of making such a dramatic increase right now.

"I think people in the county would tell you the same thing that you're basically telling them -- suck it up and pay the difference somewhere else and keep the prices down for lunches," he said. "My recommendation would be that we don't go over $1.75 for lunches."

Even that increase would not be sufficient considering related expenses, Mrs. Barwick said.

"I'm saying that we take a look at how much we would be in the hole if we look at $1.75, figure out where we can cut our budget somewhere else," Grantham said. "Some of the areas are possibly not as important to people in the county as those lunches."

Grantham attempted to table the discussion, pending further investigation into other possibilities. Put to a vote, only Gurley and Gran-tham raised their hands.

"Tabling it does not give principals an opportunity to get the information out" for next year's school handbooks, said Thelma Smith, board chairwoman.

Board member Shirley Sims proposed an amendment to the price increase -- submit it as is, do a study and if possible, decrease prices. The motion passed, with only Grantham opposed.