4/28/16 School lunches rise 5 cents

School lunches rise 5 cents
10 schools keep free lunches
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 4/28/16  
Reprinted with permission.      

   The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education voted Tuesday to raise the price of school lunches by 5 cents to $2.45, and to continue a program providing free lunches to all students in 10 schools.

   “I made the motion for a nickel because I didn’t want it to be a dime, and I really don’t like the way the federal government handles this program,” board member Tony Rose said.

   Board members Patsy Simpson and Pam Thompson voted against raising lunch process, though the district doesn’t have many good options.

   The federal government reimburses ABSS’ child nutrition services for both paid and free lunches, but much less for paid lunches. Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school districts are required to make up the gap between the amounts the USDA is paying for the paid and free lunches, but allows districts to raise lunch prices only 10 cents at a time.

   School systems that charge less than the target price, currently $2.78, are required to increase prices gradually until they meet the requirement, or return thousands of dollars to the USDA.

   “It seems like they’re playing with us,” Thompson said.

   Some districts get waivers to avoid raising prices. ABSS has in the past, but is not eligible this year thanks to conflicting requirements on how much the child nutrition department has in reserve, Assistant Superintendent Todd Thorpe said.

   THE BOARD ALSO voted to keep participating in the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch program allowing nine elementary schools and one middle school to serve lunches without charging any students.

   “It’s been very successful,” Thorpe said. “Parents appreciate the opportunity …. We’d love to have more schools qualify.”

   The CEP allows qualifying schools to serve free meals to all students regardless of income so families don’t have to fill out applications for free and reduced-price lunches.

   This was the first year ABSS participated in the CEP, and Thorpe said more students were getting meals at schools once the paperwork was eliminated.

   Schools and districts in which 40 percent of students are “identified” qualify for the program, but only schools in which 62.5 percent of students are identified get reimbursed for all meals.

   Having these 10 schools participating in the CEP costs the district nothing, Thorpe said, but the district would have to pay the difference for schools that don’t qualify out of its budget.

   Adding one more school on the bubble would cost ABSS about $6,500 a month, Thorpe said.

   Students are identified as needy through various federal programs, such as the School Lunch Program, or SNAP, also known as food stamps, or schools can identify students.

   SIMPSON ONCE AGAIN said she was frustrated about the quality of food served in school cafeterias.

   “I definitely have a problem with trying to be healthy, but my kids are eating pizza — pizza for breakfast and pizza for lunch three times a week,” Simpson said. “The bottom line is you’re not serving good food, I’m sorry”

   Simpson asked whether ABSS representatives could visit some schools in other districts that were making better-tasting food in spite of federal guidelines.

   “Institutional food is institutional food,” Superintendent Bill Harrison said. “I eat in cafeterias two or three times a week, and it’s fine.”