The Rochester School Committee was the first to approve a modest increase in the price of school lunch, but voted to wait until January to enact it, setting a precedent for the remaining districts who have not yet met this school year.
On August 29, School Business Administrator Patrick Spencer proposed an increase of 25 cents across the board and across all Tri-Town school districts in order to meet the pricing standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“[The USDA] calculated a new PLU – paid lunch equity rate – of $2.92,” said Spencer. Upon the announcement, Spencer averaged the cost of school lunch throughout the junior high, high school, and elementary schools, with how many meals are served and came up with $2.88. “So we are low, so we have to raise our meal price to meet the requirements.”
Elementary schools will increase from $2.75 to $3, and at the junior and high schools it will go up from $3 to $3.75.
According to Spencer, the USDA’s PLU fluctuates each year by about 8 cents, “So by doing it at this [25 cents] level, we won’t need to do another meal increase for three to four years,” said Spencer. “We have to do something,” he continued. “We have to meet the requirement.”
The 25-cent hike will help the districts meet that requirement, while providing a buffer over the next few years to prevent frequent price increases.
The last school lunch cost increase was in 2014/2015, Spencer said, which was for the same reason as this year’s increase.
“The main piece here is, if we did not do it, it would affect our reimbursement,” stated School Committee member Sharon Hartley.
Spencer confirmed Hartley’s statement, saying, “We would lose some reimbursement money.”
The increase was not meant as an immediate increase, as all the district school committees would need to approve the increase. Spencer said he would have preferred to enact the price increase once all the committees approved it; however, School Committee Robin Rounseville said she would prefer to start the new price in January to give parents enough time to prepare for the change.
It is important to note that the school lunch cost increase does not affect students in the free or reduced lunch program as the reduced lunch prices are set at the federal level.
In other school lunch news, Food Service Director Jill Hennessy said the lunchrooms would be going straw-free this year after a call for action by students in other elementary schools and at the high school.
“Students asked last spring … about this movement with straws, and I heard them loud and clear,” said Hennessey. “So I basically reached out to the staff and we are going to withdraw all the straws with the exception of the current stock that we have.”
Not everyone welcomed the idea of a straw-free cafeteria, however.
“There are some students that will refuse to come in for lunch if they cannot have a straw,” Hennessey said, “so it is as needed. If they request one then I will give them one, but I am going to remove them.”
Hennessey said most students would still be able to drink from the milk cartons without using a straw.
The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee will be October 11 at 6:30 pm at Rochester Memorial School.
Rochester School Committee
By Jean Perry