Susan Mobley, supervisor of school nutrition, said the increase is needed in order to cover the cost of free and reduced lunches.
In a letter to the Board of Education and City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff, Mobley explained the situation.
“The rule requires School Food Authorities participating in the National School Lunch Program to ensure sufficient funds are provided to the nonprofit school food service account for lunches served to students not eligible for free or reduced price meals.”
Mobley said prices were originally increased for the 2011-12 school year. All pay increases were then bypassed for the following school year, 2012-13. She said an increase is once again needed to ensure the city system can cover the additional costs of free and reduced lunches.
Ringstaff reiterated the school cafeteria is nonprofit. He said a profit is not made through the sale of regular lunches in the school system. Mobley determined the increase in prices through the use of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Paid Lunch Equity tool designed to assist school food authorities.
The price increases for the 2013-14 school year are as follows: elementary lunch from $2.05 to $2.25; high school lunch from $2.30 to $2.50; and faculty/staff lunch from $3 to $3.25.
A note of interest is the middle school lunch fee actually decreased, from $2.30 to $2.25. This means students from preschool to eighth grade will be paying the same price for lunch.
Mobley also said she was able to keep the price of breakfast the same. It will continue to be $1.25 for all students and $1.50 for faculty/staff.
School board members were hesitant to increase the prices for meals.
According to Mobley, if the school system did not increase prices, it would have to prove to USDA the extra fees were being covered by a nonfederal source.
Ringstaff explained 63 percent of city school students are on free and reduced lunch.
“We lead Southeast Tennessee with those numbers. A lot of these kids only eat what we get them,” Ringstaff said. “We just will not be able to sustain what we are doing without increasing the prices.”
If prices were not increased, the school system would have to pick up the 15 or more cents per lunch. According to Ringstaff, the small price tag per student would increase to a hefty charge for the system.
School board members also asked questions about meal portions, food choices and the students’ reaction to the meals.
Mobley explained the older children are still having a difficult time adjusting to the change in the nutrition guidelines.
“I really like the meal pattern. I think we are headed in the right direction,” Mobley said. “If I could have changed anything, it would have just been that we would have implemented it incrementally. That we would have started with the younger students and worked our way up, and not made it such a difficult change for the older students.”