Morenci school board 2011.08.17

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci’s school lunch prices will increase this year as the district joins hundreds of others in meeting federal requirements.

After Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program were forced to take a look at their food service funding in regard to federal subsidies.

Research by the U.S.D.A. found that many schools are charging less for lunches than it costs to produce the lunch.

According to the U.S.D.A. report, “Pricing paid lunches below the cost of production effectively increases federal subsidies for higher income children because federal funds intended for free and reduced price lunches are being used to help fill the gap between what a paid lunch costs and what the school receives for it.”

Therefore, the report continues, children across all income levels are negatively affected by limiting the funds available to provide nutritious meals.

A funding formula results in a five cent increase for elementary school lunches to $1.80 and a dime increase for older student lunches to $2.10—the first increase in many years.

Districts will be required to gradually increase prices until reaching the national average of $2.46, with increases of no more than 10 cents a year.

District finance director Erica Metcalf noted that the district does have the option of taking revenue from another source to cover the cost difference, such as a transfer from the general fund 

Families have trouble covering the cost of lunches now, said school board member Phil McCaskey.

“I don’t see how we can do it,” he said. “The only way you’re going to get my support on this is if we do a proactive approach in the community to go out and touch base with people about the free and reduced lunch program.”

The maximum that can be transferred from the general fund, Metcalf said, is $25,000, however, the district is likely to encounter increased costs from meeting other requirements in the new lunch law, Nutritional standards are also changing, along with a requirement to make  drinking water to students in the cafeteria.

Increasing prices will affect about half of Morenci’s students since the level of free and reduced-price lunches stands at about 50 percent.

There are probably many people who don’t think they would qualify for free and reduced lunches, said superintendent Michael Osborne, because the standards are more generous than many people might think.

Pride is a big factor, McCaskey said, that prevents many families from taking advantage of the free and reduced-price program.

School board president Scott Merillat suggested contacting families when they get behind in lunch payments to make sure they’re aware of the free and reduced-price program.

“The $25,000 transfer is an actual cost of the food service,” noted board member Laura Spencer. “If our costs are going to increase and we’re not covering that $25,000 for overhead, it would make sense that we would want to cover that.”

Board members voted 4-1 to support the lunch price increase, with McCaskey in opposition. Ivy Hutchison and Gary Ries were absent.

STAFF—Two elementary teachers were recalled for the 2011-12 school year. Music teacher Keith Filipek and classroom teacher Chris Mansfield will return from layoff. Teaching assignments were not yet released for the upcoming school year as administrators continue to work through a budget deficit.

Freda Wright was hired as a full-time bus driver. She had previously worked as a substitute driver. Former classroom teacher Paula Grieder, who was laid off, was hired as Title I paraprofessional.

BIDS—Board members voted to accept a bid for milk from Prairie Farms; gasoline from Lightning Quick in Morenci; premium diesel fuel from Tri-County Fuel; and bread from Aunt Millie’s.

The bids mark a change from last year for bread and milk. McCaskey voted against the change in the milk supplier, noting that the former supplier, Arps, donates milk for some school functions. 

The change Prairie Farms will save the district about $4,000.

“I think we should take advantage of the savings or we’ll have to cut somewhere else,” Merillat said.

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