Licking Heights students will have to pay 25 cents more for their lunches when they return in August.

Licking Heights students will have to pay 25 cents more for their lunches when they return in August.

During a special meeting May 26 at Licking Heights High School, school board members approved a 25-cent increase for lunches at all schools for the 2010-11 school year.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker cited rising costs for food and supplies as the reason for the increase, which puts the price of lunch at $2.25.

The board examined a report from the School Nutrition Association that included information about rising costs, Tucker said. Since 2007, the cost of milk has increased by 17 percent, the cost of rice and pasta by 15 percent and the cost of cheese by 20 percent, he said. Fuel also is a factor, he said.

Though Tucker said the board is cognizant of the economic climate, a change was necessary.

"We're at a juncture where we have to raise prices," he said.

Seventy-one percent of students participate in the lunch program, including those who receive free or reduced-price lunches, Tucker said. The 25-cent increase enables the lunch program to operate independently of the school's general fund, he said.

"In this day and time, that's almost unheard of," he said.

The school district also has a new director for the food-services program. Ginger Parsons will start July 27. Parsons previously was the food-service administrator for the Columbus City School District.

The board also approved new handbooks for the 2010-11 school year.

While board members focused on ensuring that the handbooks are aligned with the State Board of Education policies, they also discussed possible changes for the 2011-12 handbooks. One change addresses attendance policy, with which, Tucker said, the 9-12 grades have been experiencing some difficulty. Based on preliminary data, Tucker said, he thinks the 9-12 grades have met the 93-percent state indicator for the 2009-10 school year.

Still, the board has discussed creating a policy that would allow the principal to suspend students who accumulate 10 or more unexcused absences. Students must be allowed to return to school, Tucker said, adding that many school districts have similar policies.

Other board members also agreed that educators should keep a vigilant eye on student attendance.

"If they're not in school, they're not going to learn anything," board president Mark Loth said.

If approved, the policy would appear in the 2011-12 handbooks.

In other matters:

Community-engagement meetings are scheduled for June 3 and 10 to gather public opinion for the maintenance plan for Licking Heights schools. Columbus-based Steed Hammond Paul Leading Design, an engineering firm hired by the school system, will run the meetings.