School board OKs school lunch price hike

WESTFIELD – The School Committee voted last night to increase the price of lunch served in the city’s schools by 10 cents, after a presentation by school officials.
Frank Maher, director of maintenance, transportation and food services and Susan Pretola, supervisor of cafeterias, presented a number of options to the school committee,  ranging from no increase to a 15 cent increase.
“The report recognizes that this increase is mandated by federal law,” Maher said.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 mandates that full priced school lunch prices be gradually increased until the “selling cost equals that of the reimbursement rate for free school lunches.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets that free lunch reimbursement rate based on a combination of inflationary factors for food, Maher said. The rate, which is what the USDA reimburses to school districts for students who qualify for free and reduced cost lunch programs, was $2.51 at the end of last year and is expected to be adjusted upward this academic year by about six cents.
The purpose of the HHFKA law is to improve the nutritional value of meals provided to students as part of the national effort to reduce childhood obesity.
“The purpose of this mandate is to enable schools to offer an enhanced meal program with increased portion sizes and increased frequency of fruits and vegetables, mandated types of vegetables, more whole-grain breads and pastas, servings of low-fat dairy products and increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium” in food served to students, Maher said.
“To meet one of the requirements of the HHFKA, prices must be gradually raised,” he said. “We currently charge elementary students $2, secondary students $2.15 and adults, including senior citizens, $3.20 including meals tax.”
The 10 cent increase will raise the cost of elementary lunch to $2.10, secondary school programs to $2.25 and adult lunch to $3.30.
Committeewoman Diane Mayhew said she compared the price of school lunch programs in the city to those of surrounding communities.
“We’re still low,” Mayhew said. “Most other communities are at the $2.51 rate. I checked six other districts and we’re still the lowest.”
The 10 cent per meal increase will generate $23,748 for the lunch revolving account which is a buffer recommended by the USDA. Maher said the the federal agency recommends that districts have sufficient funding in their revolving accounts to operate between four to 10 weeks. Westfield, which served 525,000 lunches last year, has an eight week reserve.

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