Bargain school lunch prices may soon be a thing of the past

February 25, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The best school lunch bargain in the area may be coming to an end.

Starting at $1.10, Anne Arundel's student lunches are at least 15 cents cheaper than meals in other area school systems, and the prices have remained steady for more than five years.

But the school board has been put on notice that this may have to change in August, depending on the state of the system's school lunch fund.

"We do not know yet, but it is possible we may have to raise the price of our meals," said Ralph Luther, chief of facilities management for the public schools. "We may be able to get by another year."

The fund is a revolving, self-sustaining fund now at $11.7 million. Two-thirds of the revenue comes from the sale of food, the rest from federal and state payments to cover the cost of the free or reduced-price lunches that are served to the 15.2 percent of Anne Arundel's nearly 73,000 students who qualify for the low-income program.

The food service has to end the school year with at least $2 million in reserve so that bills coming due through the summer and early fall can be covered before the federal reimbursement money starts to flow in October.

School board President Joseph H. Foster said he wanted a thorough analysis of the fund before the board made any changes.

Before raising lunch prices, board members would want assurances that the food service division was operating efficiently and that more money was needed to keep the revolving fund solvent, he said.

The county school system serves about 9 million lunches a year, Luther said, so a nickel increase -- the smallest that is practical -- would generate $450,000.

"This is the sixth year that we have been at the same price for both meals and milk," said Renee Koehler, who heads the food service division.

Federal and state reimbursements have climbed during that time, but so have the costs of food, wages, equipment and repairs. The system's 450 cafeteria workers are in one of four unions in the middle of contract talks with the board.

A student lunch costs $1.10, breakfast costs 70 cents, and an 8-ounce container of milk costs 30 cents.

A price increase would disappoint many parents, but no outcry is expected.

"I think it might be a point of discussion for parents," said Esther Parker, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs. "Nobody ever wants a price increase on anything. But with school lunch, you do have a choice. You can pack a lunch."

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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