Students will see 15 cent increase
Next fall, it will cost 15 cents extra for a student to eat lunch at a public school in Union County. The price hike is due to a federal mandate, which requires the cost to climb.
“In these tough economic times, an increase in the cost of school meals is not something I would have asked for,” Union County Schools Child Nutrition Director Denise Lamar said.
Although she is not happy about the timing of the mandated increase, Lamar said she understands the need. “For us to provide healthier meals, we can’t afford to keep the price of lunches as low as they are,” she said. “We have to be able to generate revenue to add healthier menu choices.”
The increase affects students at all schools. This means beginning July 1, elementary school lunches will increase to $1.95 while middle and high school lunches will cost $2.05.
Parents meanwhile question why they should have to bear the burden of a system struggling to find revenue.
“It’s funny, the federal government can find money to increase their paychecks, but they can’t find money in the budget to keep school lunches the same price,” Stallings resident Bill Cooper said. Cooper, who has a child at Stallings Elementary, said this is more than a cost issue. “It’s the principle of the thing,” Cooper said. “The government can hand out over $400 million to upgrade a railroad system just to shave off 13 minutes of travel between Raleigh and Charlotte. Why is that a priority and not the school system?”
The district’s Child Nutrition Program is an enterprise fund meaning it is self-supported and not funded by the school system. The students who buy school meals generate the majority of its income, while the federal government’s subsidies equate to about 40 percent of the program’s revenue, according to Union County Public Schools.
The lunch increase stems from a law passed last fall called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It stipulates that beginning July 1, lunches will increase to help offset the difference between what students pay and the actual cost to provide the lunches.
“Our meals cost us more to produce than we’re now taking in,” Lamar said. “That’s why we sell the cookies, water and snacks. We use that money to help subsidize the cost of meals we provide.”
As the cost of food increases, Lamar said it has become more of a challenge to offer healthy meals, therefore, the government is requiring school nutrition programs to increase the cost being charged to compensate. “Unless they change the law, the increases will happen for the next several years,” Lamar said.
Indian Trail native Susanna Worley says she understands the price hike, but wonders if elected officials aren’t just dumping all the cost cutting on the schools.
“It’s a rough economy right now, I think we all get that,” Worley, a mother of three, said. “But everywhere you turn, the school system is getting hit. County commissioners want to slash $8 million off the budget. Now the schools are bracing for hits from the state. What’s next?”
The school district however doesn’t see the price increase as actually helping. The increased cost of gas, officials say, will likely lead to increased food costs.
“A lot of that 15 cents increase that we’re going to get is actually going to be absorbed by these increased costs,” Lamar said. “We’re not going to gain much because once transportation prices go up, food prices will shoot up.”
Union County falls just under the region’s average when it comes to lunch costs. The average in the region for the cost of lunch is $1.97 in elementary schools and $2.08 in the middle and high schools. Union County meanwhile currently charges $1.80 for elementary lunches and $1.90 for lunches at the middle and high school levels. Region Six, which includes Union, consists of nine other counties including Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln and Stanly county schools. Also included are Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis City schools.
Cleveland County schools have the lowest prices, with elementary lunches costing $1.45 and middle and high school lunches costing $1.55. Stanly County has the most expensive, with elementary lunches at $2.25 and middle and high school prices at $2.35.
– Information for this article was provided by the Union County Public School system.