Food costs rise, but school prices won't

Food costs rise, but school prices won't

In about a week, area children will start drifting into city and county schools as their summer ends and educational instruction resumes. A long summer of continually rising costs of fuel and food means the pockets of their parents are lighter and consequently so are theirs. Fortunately, the price of their school meals will not increase—both the city and county have decided to keep the same rates as last year.

“We did budget for an increase in food prices in our planning process, and although costs did exceed our estimates, we are able to accommodate the increases without an across the board increase in prices,” says county school spokesperson Maury Brown.

So for the next year, breakfast will remain $1.25 in county elementary schools, lunch at $1.85. Middle school lunch is slightly higher at $2.10. In city schools, K-6 breakfast is $1, lunch is $1.75.

Those are for students who pay full price. In both school divisions, students under the poverty line can get free breakfast and lunch at most schools as part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Accordingly, students with low income can get significantly reduced price meals: breakfast is only 30 cents, lunch 10 cents more, across all grades in the city and county.

Patricia Freeman, the city schools’ nutrition coordinator, says the city schools will have the same menu as last year, despite cost concerns.

Last school year, the Albemarle County School District had 12,651 students in 26 schools, with 21 percent of those students eligible for free or reduced price lunches. “We do anticipate that the number of students receiving free/reduced price meals will increase this year as a result of the economy,” Brown says. Of the city’s 3,875 students, more than 53 percent were eligible. While the federal government helps foot that bill, what the schools are then allocated for assistance depends on how many kids actually take advantage of the program.

“All the schools’ food services are suffering,” says Patricia Freeman, the city schools’ nutrition coordinator. Of city schools’ $40 million budget, only $600,000 is allotted for food, the same as the previous year. The county allocates $1.5 million of its $151 million budget to school food.

To reduce costs in the face of static budgeting, Charlottesville schools “piggyback” with the county on contract bidding for food suppliers, says Freeman. City schools have also increased their use of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Commodities program, which allows the schools to receive bulk items like beef, chicken and cheese free-of-charge, although they are responsible for any shipping, storing or processing costs. “We’re going for the same menu we had last year,” she says.
The county school’s also make use of the USDA’s program. “There have been some changes to the commodities program this year,” says Brown. For example, the schools are now able to use commodities funds to purchase local, fresh produce, rather than being restricted to buying canned fruits and vegetables, making their menu healthier while mitigating expense.

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