School lunch prices raised due to food costs
The Morgan County school board voted in late June to hike adult and student meal prices for the upcoming school year. Student breakfast and lunch fees will rise 10 cents, while adult meal prices will go up 50 cents.
Child Nutrition Director Kristie Randall told the board she had surveyed nearby school systems to see how their meal prices stacked up against local schools.
Food costs are a concern statewide, she said.
According to Randall, Morgan County's new prices of $1.15 for breakfast and $1.40 for lunch for elementary school students are on the low end of area meal prices. Adult breakfasts will cost $3 and lunches will cost $4.
At least three area school systems have also raised meal prices for the next school year, Randall said.
Local school meal prices haven't risen since 2004.
Prices don't meet costs
A look at the actual cost of feeding school children puts the recent price hike into perspective.
In 2007, it cost Morgan County Schools $3.02 to produce a breakfast that met federal and state nutritional standards. Elementary students paid only $1.05 for that meal.
A lunch that meets school food rules cost $4.03 to make, according to statistics provided by School Treasurer Nancy White.
Of that cost, $1.18 is spent on food, $.29 on non-food supplies like napkins and straws, $2.12 goes to cover labor for cooks and nutri-tional staff, and $.38 for costs like equipment and repairs.
Under the new pricing schedule, the schools will rely on federal reimbursements, state aid and local tax dollars to cover the other $2.63 it takes to serve a nutritious meal to local students.
In 2007, the Morgan County school system spent $42,245 per month
on food. Twenty-four school cooks turned those massive food orders into 122,484 student breakfasts and 306,833 student lunches in the county's eight schools. They also prepared 12,000 adult meals and served 438,000 half-pints of milk last year.
Treasurer White estimated that monthly food costs will jump to $45,516 per month during the coming year.
Free and reduced meals
The school nutrition program in Morgan County survives, in part, because the federal government foots the meal bill for 882 of the county's 2,755 students. Another 328 students qualify for reduced lunch prices, based on their family's household income.
According to White's records, 1,826 children ate school lunch on an average day last year. Of those, about 55% paid full-price for their meals while the remaining students got assistance for their meal costs. Another 729 students ate school breakfast.
Local families spent $263,689 last year for meals through the schools. Some didn't keep up with their children's meal tab, forcing the school system to send $31,000 in uncollected lunch debt to collections in 2007.
Last year, a family of four could qualify for meal assistance if their annual income was below $38,203. The new income guidelines haven't been made public yet.
Encouraged to apply
Applications for free and reduced lunches are sent to county students' homes each summer, said Kristie Randall.
As head of the Child Nutrition program for Morgan County, she tries to pitch the program to parents, encouraging them to apply for free and reduced meals for their school-age children.
People used to think there was a stigma attached to that, that school staff knew which kids were free and reduced, Randall said.
That's not the case these days, she said. Only she knows which students qualify for the federal meal program, and Randall keeps those names under lock and key.
School secretaries enter only a student number on daily meal rosters and deliver those to Randall.
The higher number of needy kids we have signed up, the more benefits the school gets, she said.
On top of money for school meals, Morgan County also receives money for reading programs, school libraries, and special programs to help struggling students based on the number of those students who qualify for free and reduced meals.
Across the county, the level of need for meal assistance varies. On average, 43% of Morgan County students meet the income guidelines to get help paying for their school meals.
White told school officials in June that they would likely see an increase in the number of applications for meal assistance, given the tightening of the local and national economy.