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Lunch guidelines affecting districts' bottom line

9/21/2012

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Adjustments to the National School Lunch Program this year originating from the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 aren't without cost consequences.

However, schools have to meet the guidelines to get federal funds.

Students must have fruits and vegetables on their trays, said Shiela Brening, Hays USD 489 nutrition services director.

"We know the increased outlay of fruits and vegetables is going to be more costly," she said.

They might be more expensive to buy, but since not all students eat the fruits and vegetables, there's also more waste.

Hays High School Principal Mike Hester said some students have to be sent back to get the required foods.

Some of the kids say, "but I don't want to waste food. I'll just throw it away," Hester said.

It doesn't matter, they still have to meet the requirements, he said.

Changing to whole grains also has impacted nutrition services' bottom line.

This year, 50 percent of all grains must be whole grain. Next year, it's 100 percent.

"Pasta, rice, breads, tortillas, anything that's like that, all will have to be whole grain next year," Brening said. "There is an added cost to the whole grain piece as well."

This summer's drought and high fuel costs add to the cost of beef, corn products, and some fruits and vegetables.

"That seems to be an ongoing expense, increased fees assessed to us for every delivery we have," she said of fuel costs.

Despite the increase in costs, the nutrition program receives no money from the district, said Will Roth, Hays USD 489 superintendent.

"All of the money that we use to operate the nutrition services department is federal, local and a very small amount of state money," Brening said.

The local money Brening refers to comes from students' lunch fees, which are set by the board of education.

The price of a lunch increased 10 cents this school year.

"Basically, that will cover the increase in (health) insurance, and the increase in wages," for the 44 employees in the department, Brening said.

Lunch prices are $2.30 for elementary, $2.40 for middle school, $2.50 for high school, and $3.30 for adults. Students who qualify for reduced price lunches pay 40 cents.

Breakfast prices are $1.50 for all students, and 30 cents for reduced cost. Adults pay $2.

It is projected during the 2012-13 school year 900 students will receive free meals and 260 students reduced cost meals. According to district figures, 743 students received free meals and 317 students purchased reduced cost meals in 2007-08. This year's projection shows an increase of 100 students receiving free or reduced cost meals in five years. It's down from the high of 952 free meals and 308 reduced cost meals in 2008-09.

"All free meals (and reduced cost) come from the federal government," Brening said.

Brening said her department receives about 47 cents in federal funds and 4 cents from the state to cover the cost of the meals of students who pay the full price.

"We get no (federal) reimbursement whatsoever for any adults. They pay the full price. Another part of this whole act was equity in pricing. ... That's another reason for the increased 10 cents. Each year, (school districts) have to increase 10 cents unless you're at that magic figure. We're not there, (but) we're close. Even if we hadn't had an increase in pay and health insurance, we still would have had to go up 10 cents."