Students may have to fish some more change out of their pockets to get their fish sticks come this fall.
The federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act requires school districts to charge a price for lunches that is more in line how much they are being reimbursed from the federal government, according to Michelle Sagristano, regional dietician for Chartwells, which has the meal contract for the Scotia-Glenville Central School District.
Specifically, it says districts must charge a price that is on average equal to the difference between the 26 cents they are reimbursed for paid meals versus the $2.72 they are reimbursed for students who receive free lunch. That figure is $2.46.
“There are districts that aren’t anywhere near that price for lunch,” Sagristano said.
For example, Scotia-Glenville’s lunch prices are currently $1.60 for elementary students and $1.80 for secondary students.
Sagristano said the concern from the government is that because of the money the districts get from the federal government, the children who receive free lunch are in effect subsidizing those who pay for lunch.
Scotia-Glenville Board of Education member Colleen Benedetto said she was worried about what would happen with a price increase — even a small one.
“There are some children that don’t come to school with a lunch and they’re not eligible for free lunch,” he said.
Other districts are also grappling with the requirements. The Mohonasen Central School District was charging $1.75 for elementary students and $2.25 for middle and high school students.
Food Service Director Kim Gagnon said she is recommending raising the elementary lunch price by 25 cents in each of the next two years after consulting with some parents.
“They really felt strongly about doing it over a couple of years as opposed to all at once,” she said.
Gagnon said Mohonasen’s current prices are among the low end for 13 comparable school districts.
She said she believes the price increase would negatively affect the number of children who take lunch. Unfortunately, the district does not have much of a choice.
School districts are required to increase their prices by a minimum of 10 cents but Gagnon said federal officials did not specify how soon they have to bring up the prices to the reimbursement rate.
Mohonasen Superintendent Kathleen Spring said she believes the federal government’s ultimate goal is for school districts to get rid of the snacks that they sell on an a la carte basis.
“They’re trying to set it up so the snacks really don’t supplement the lunch program, which is what’s happening now,” she said.
In addition to the price, what students will see on their plate will change as well, according to Sagristano. As part of the federal requirements, school lunch programs must increase their whole grains and fruits and vegetables and reduce sodium content. The government wants more dark green and orange vegetables and less of the starchy corn, peas and potato. Also, as of this September, all milk has to be nonfat.
Schools will be reimbursed an additional 6 cents per free lunch if they meet new nutritional standards.
The federal government is in the process of developing the new standards, which will be implemented during the 2012-13 year, according to Sagristano.