Expect a quarter increase for all school meals this fall.
The Howard County school board unanimously approved the increase because of an 8 percent jump in employee salaries, a 9 percent rise in employee benefits, and fuel and transportation surcharges.
"It's one of those balancing acts," said Mary Klatko, the system's administrator for food and nutrition services, in defending the 25-cent increase.
The increase will make the average price of a secondary school lunch $2.75. It will cost $2.25 at the elementary level.
Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin does not expect the increase to greatly affect the number of students who purchase meals.
"There is always some loss in participation," Cousin said. "Even with the increase, it's an affordable cost."
Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of PTA Council of Howard County, sympathized with the school system.
"I understand where they are coming from," she said. "Two dollars and seventy-five cents is not an extravagant amount."
Last year, the board approved a recommendation that increased school lunches by 50 cents for secondary school students and 25 cents for elementary pupils. Increases in salaries, health insurance, fuel and milk costs resulted in that increase, school system administrators said.
Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, said that the price of meals could increase again.
"There is a good possibility," Brown said. "The labor costs will rise again next year. We'll evaluate that possibility."
Minutes before board members approved the price increase, they learned that implementing the system's new wellness policy resulted in a loss of revenue for the food and nutrition department.
As a result of the wellness policy, a la carte items can contain no more than 9 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 15 grams of sugar per serving. The guidelines also limit the sales of many candies and high-fat snack foods.
As a result of the changes, Klatko said, a la carte sales have dropped, resulting in an estimated financial deficit of $740,000.
"Students are definitely missing it," Klatko said about the a la carte items that included french fries.
A national consulting company specializing in school food services, inTEAM Associates Inc., conducted an audit of the system's wellness policy. The company recommended that Howard County offer students more a la carte items.
"Students physically develop at different ages, so it is important to allow students extra foods to meet their calorie needs during growth spurts," the audit stated.
The company also observed that high school students complained about the drastic reduction in beverages and snack items.
Howard County's food and nutrition department has "made the most changes in the a la carte food offerings -- perhaps too much change," the audit states.
Overall, the audit was supportive of the school system's wellness policy.
"Howard County is doing an excellent job of setting a healthy food environment and further restrictions at this point would be counterproductive," the audit email@example.com
For a comprehensive, downloadable list of reading and math test scores for every school in Maryland: http:--www.baltimoresun.com/msareportwww .baltimoresun. com/msareports/
Here are the new meal prices for the 2007-08 school year:
Elementary lunch: $2.25
Secondary lunch: $2.75
Signature lunch (high school): $3.50
Coaches Corner lunch (high school): $3.50
Adult regular lunch: $3.90
Adult Signature lunch (High School): $4.25
Adult Coaches Corner lunch (high school): $4.25
Student breakfast (all schools): $1.50
Adult breakfast: $2.25
[Source: Board of Education]