Meal prices increase in schools

Students in Newton-Conover City Schools will have to pay a little more for breakfast and lunch meals.

Starting in the 2011-12 school year, breakfast prices will increase 25 cents, while lunch for elementary students increases 20 cents and middle and high school students' lunch prices rise 15 cents. NCCS has not increased meal prices since 2007.

The price increase came after a 4-1 NCCS Board of Education vote Monday, with Chairman Scott Loudermelt opposing. Board member Mark Murphy was not present at the scheduled meeting.

Loudermelt said he feels more time was needed to review the proposed meal price increases.

"I do think it was a good vote, but we just got the information a couple of weeks ago," he said Tuesday during a phone interview. "I always think we can look at ways to cut costs because families do struggle sometimes."

Loudermelt said the increase in food prices, as well as the addition of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act S-330 — signed into effect by President Barack Obama on Dec. 13 — led to the request for meal price increases.

The new NCCS meal prices are $1.25 for breakfast; $2 for lunch in elementary schools; and $2.15 for middle and high school lunches.

Reduced lunch prices are set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are currently 30 cents for each breakfast meal and 40 cents for each reduced lunch.

"If you have two to three kids eating two times a day, you can do the math. It adds up," Loudermelt said. "I always think we should definitely look hard at the expense side before we pass any kind of cost increase."

Vickie Rowe, NCCS director of child nutrition, said at-home and restaurant food prices are expected to increase 2 to 3 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of the projected food increases and constant rise in gas costs, Rowe said she felt there was no other choice than to ask the Board of Education for a meal price increase.

"We are an enterprise, so we are responsible for all funds," Rowe said. "We have to make the money in our department to support the program."

Some of the large expenses the child nutrition department faced recently or anticipates for the future are labor for 35 employees in the seven NCCS schools; $10,000 to $12,000 for a dishwasher; $3,000 for a milk box; and about $10,000 for an oven.

"Our equipment is old," Rowe said. "I have a plan to implement new equipment every year."

Rowe said the child nutrition department serves about 2,100 student meals, as well as a la carte meals. A la carte meals are baskets that don't fit the nutrition guidelines or food items sold in addition to a meal, such as cookies, bottled water or an extra milk carton.

In addition to funds from breakfast, lunch and a la carte meals, the child nutrition department gets a 26-cent federal reimbursement for paid lunches and $2.72 for free lunches. Also, South Newton and Thornton elementary schools receive state reimbursements for kindergarten breakfast meals.

Rowe said the reimbursement amounts can change for the 2011-12 school year.

"We never like to increase prices," Rowe said. "It's really hard, and we try to hold off as long as possible. With the rising food prices, we feel like we had to ask this year."

Catawba County Schools is also proposing an increase in meal prices, but its Board of Education has not reviewed the suggested plan.

Currently, CCS charges $1 for all breakfast meals; $2 for elementary lunches; and $2.10 for middle and high school lunches.

Hickory Public Schools is currently not suggesting a proposal in meal prices. The school system's prices are $1 for breakfast; $1.75 for elementary lunch; and $2.10 for middle and high school lunch.

Other news:
Jerry McCombs, president of the Catawba County NAACP branch, asked the board to reconsider using Martin Luther King Jr. Day as another make-up date in future school years.

The recent holiday was used as a snow make-up date for students, which McCombs said was "disturbing to the black community as a whole."

McCombs asked the board to consider an Easter Monday holiday or a teacher workday as a make-up date.

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