Lunch prices rise 15 cents, in first increase in 4 years


For the first time in four years, the cost of a school lunch in Carroll County is being increased. The need to raise the price, set to take effect this fall, can be traced to rising fuel and food costs, according to school officials.

"The price of everything is going up," said Superintendent Charles I. Ecker. "It costs us more not only for the item, but for the transportation to get it there."

School officials unanimously approved a 15-cent increase at a board meeting last week, bringing the price of lunch to $1.75 at the elementary school level and $1.90 in middle and high schools. The costs of a "super lunch" in middle and high schools will be $2.40.

The price of breakfast - $1 a meal - will not be affected, and the cost of reduced-price meals will remain the same, 40 cents per lunch and 30 cents per breakfast, said Eulalia Muschik, the system's supervisor of food services.

The price increase means that the student who eats a school lunch every day of a 180-day school year will have to pay an additional $27 for lunches.

Muschik said the increase was necessary to ensure that the school system's food program doesn't run a deficit.

She said the program was facing at least a $100,000 shortfall without the additional revenue.

She said the money is needed to offset the additional costs associated with a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for food services workers and an anticipated 3 percent to 5 percent increase in prices for food, paper and other supplies, in part because of higher transportation costs.

School officials said that increased salaries result in higher related fringe benefits costs. They said they also expect medical insurance costs to continue rising.

"We increase the price when we don't feel we're going to be able to break even," she said. "We hadn't had that concern in recent years, and so we hadn't felt the need to raise the price before now."

But, Muschik said, she decided it was necessary to seek the increase, as she projected the program's growing expenses in the coming year.

She said that in the past few years, the costs of food had held steady but that more recently those expenses had begun to rise.

For instance, as manufacturers began paying more for fuel to deliver their products to schools, they began charging districts more for food and supplies.

"The costs are all being passed down the line," she said. "It was considerably more this year."

Muschik pointed to the price of fruits and vegetables, which had shot up $3 to $4 more a case.

"Normally, we see changes of less than a dollar a year for any particular item that increases in cost," she said. "But $3 and $4 increases per case are pretty substantial increases."

Carroll school officials said the district's lunch prices remain comparable to neighboring systems, such as Howard County, where lunch costs $1.75 at elementary schools and $2 at middle and high schools.

Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties are all considering price increases for the next school year, Carroll school officials pointed out.

School board members unanimously supported the price increase, but student representative Brendan Schlauch, pressed Muschik to clearly communicate to students why the lunch prices would be raised.

"I understand we have a budget deficit and we need to fix that," said Schlauch, a senior at South Carroll High in Winfield. "But students don't understand when the prices go up but the sizes of their meals stay the same."

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