School board approves hike in meal prices

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 23, 2013

EAST SPENCER — Meal prices in the Rowan-Salisbury School System will be going up by 10 cents next year, unless the system finds enough funding to avoid it.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted Monday to approve an increase in the elementary school meal cost from $2 to $2.10, and in the middle and high school meal cost from $2.15 to $2.25.
“We are right in line with what school systems around us are doing,” said Child Nutrition Director Libby Post. “We are probably right in the middle or toward the bottom of where meal prices are.”
As part of the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires school boards to perform an annual review of meal prices using its own paid lunch equity tool.
If a school system’s average paid meal price is less than the difference between the federal reimbursements for paid meals and for free or reduced meals, it must gradually increase its prices over time until it meets the required amount (currently $2.59).
This provision keeps school systems from using free or reduced meal subsidies to lower the cost of full-price meals.
The increase for 2013-14 comes in addition to a 15-cent increase approved last year. In 2011-12, elementary school students paid $1.85 per meal, and middle and high school students paid $2.
Board Member Chuck Hughes asked what would happen if the school system does not raise its prices again.
Post responded that the system will lose its federal funding for meals.
“If we raise these prices, will it enable us to participate in buying more Rowan County produce?” Hughes said.
Post said yes, the system can use the federal money it receives to buy local food for school lunches. That wasn’t always the case, she said.
“Might we be in the same circumstances next year where we’ll have to raise again?” said Board Member Kay Wright Norman.
Probably yes, Post said, but some legislators are looking at taking this requirement out of the law.
“I think it does have an impact on participation,” she said. “As you raise meal prices, it squeezes the kids that are paying for their meals.”
She said the 10-cent increase would equate to a little more than $100,000.
Chairman Richard Miller asked if an outside source could later contribute that $100,000 to avoid raising the cost to students, and Post answered “yes.”
“If you have any sources of non-federal revenue, you can plug that into the formula,” she said.
The board voted 5-1 to approve the increase. Board Member Josh Wagner voted against it, saying he thinks the requirement is “arbitrary” because it doesn’t take into account individual systems’ needs or costs.
Board Member Susan Cox did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.