School lunches could cost more next year

By Alan Bulluck

June 4, 2014

Students in Ashe County Schools (ACS) who purchase lunch at school could be paying a little bit more next year.

The Board of Education is considering a proposal to increase the cost of school lunches by 15 cents for students and 25 cents for adults.

The board will vote on whether or not to approve the plan at their next regular meeting, scheduled for June 30.

Presently, students in grades K-6 pay $1.85 and students in grades 7-12 pay $2.10. Under the proposed plan, students in grades K-6 would pay $2 and students in grades 7-12 would pay $2.25. The price for an extra milk would increase from 35 cents to 40 cents.

Teachers and staff currently pay $3 and would pay $3.25, if the plan is approved.

“Unfortunately, everything has gone up,” Martha Turner, coordinator of food services for ACS, said at the board’s meeting on Monday, June 2.

Turner said vendors are charging more and cited that ever-changing federal and state nutrition standards, such as the USDA’s new Smart Snacks rules, have all necessitated a price increase.

“It’s a reality that we (school districts) are all experiencing,” Turner said.

This year, school lunch prices in ACS remained the same as the last.

“We didn’t have an increase last year,” Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden said. “I want to commend her (Turner) and the board for that.”

Turner said school breakfast prices will remain the same due to lower demand across the district. In addition, ACS receives money from the state to help cover the cost of providing breakfast for students.

“Right now, our breakfast participation is not as big as our lunch participation,” Turner said.

According to Holden, students who participate in the schools’ free and reduced lunch program will be exempt from the price increase.

“The increase will not affect our students who are on free and reduced lunch,” Holden said.

Students who qualify for reduced lunch pay 40 cents per meal.

ACS, along with all other public school districts across the country, is also required to participate in the new Smart Snacks program, which goes into effect nationwide July 1. The Smart Snacks rules set limits on calories, fats, sugar and sodium and encourage the consumption of dairy, whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables. While its intentions are good, such foods often come with a higher cost.

“The new Smart Snacks rule that will go into effect July 1 will greatly affect our a la carte sales,” Turner said.

Already, students are required to have at least a half cup of fruit or vegetable on their lunch tray. They will soon have to have a whole cup.

“Whether they eat it or not, we’re required to give it to them,” Turner said.

Due to the drought conditions across the country, Turner said they may have to offer a combination of fresh and canned fruits and vegetables next year.

Board member Dr. Lee Beckworth asked Turner whether or not she considers local produce in the bidding process to which she replied she did.

“That individual has to be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified,” Turner said. “There’s a good deal of paperwork and effort on their part that has to take place before I can consider them a part of my bid.”

“I hope we won’t have to request an increase next year,” Turner said. “I really did not want to have to propose this.”

Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.