by Sarah Grano
School lunch prices will rise next fall, but the Lincoln County Board of Education doesn’t know by how much.
The increase is due to the federally mandated Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which requires school lunches to have more whole grains and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.
“It’s something we’re going to have to do,” said Steve Zickefoose, assistant superintendent for business. “The question is do we do it now, which is option one, or do we drag it out year after year after year?”
Byron Sackett, child nutrition director, and Zickefoose presented two options to the school board’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, May 21.
The first option raises the price for all school lunches to $2.50 for the next three years. School lunches now cost $2.15 in elementary schools and $2.25 in middle schools and high schools.
The second option increases the price by 10 cents a year.
Sackett and Zickefoose recommended the first option. The committee also voted to recommend a single price at the full school board meeting, but both options drew support from members.
Bob Silver, chairman of the school board finance committee, said a single price hike would result in fewer people deciding to stop buying school lunch. He pointed to statistics that show 10 percent of student customers stop buying lunch with every price hike and only half of those who leave eventually return.
School board members Ed Hatley and Candy Burgin expressed support for the second option, saying it puts less of a burden on parents.
“I honestly don’t think it’s fair with the economy the way that it is to put all of that raise on parents in one year,” Hatley said.
Sackett warned board members that losing customers could result in losing the school system’s free breakfast program.
“We cannot offer universal breakfast if we’re in a deficit,” Sackett said. “That cannot happen.”
School board member Clayton Mullis described offering universal breakfast as “the Christian thing to do,” but he also wondered if it was actually helpful to children.
“I don’t think we’re doing a service to the kids to empower them to help themselves,” Mullis said. “To me, that’s one of the biggest problems that we have with public education – we’re having to be the parents too much, and I think that responsibility has to go back to the parents.”