Olentangy Valley News

Lunch prices on the rise at three high schools

Third increase in four years needed to keep up with federal requirements, officials say

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Olentangy high school students will need to shell out a little more change for school lunches in the fall.

The Olentangy school board approved an increase of 25 cents to the price of student lunches at the district's three high schools during its last meeting in May. Starting this fall, students will pay $2.75 per lunch.

District officials said the increase -- the third in the past four school years -- was hastened by a federal mandate.

Jeff Gordon, director of business management for the district, said Olentangy participates in a federally subsidized lunch program for low-income families. The district will receive $2.93 in federal funding per subsidized lunch for students who qualify for the program.

"The federal government is requiring that we either are at the same price for our school lunches that we receive in federal subsidies or we are moving toward that," he said.

Gordon said the rule is intended to prevent districts from banking on subsidies as a way to sustain lunch programs while providing lower-cost meals to students.

"They do not want lunch programs living off of the subsidies they're giving for free and reduced lunches," he said.

Gordon said the change coincides with new state and federal guidelines that have led to increased portions of more-healthful food.

"(Students are) now getting more portions than they would have received previously, so it makes sense to (raise prices)," he said.

The district's high school students paid $2.25 for lunches from the 2004-05 school year through the 2010-11 school year. The cost of high school lunches increased to $2.30 in 2011-12 and $2.50 in 2012-13.

Gordon said the district's administration likely will ask the board to approve an increase in elementary school lunch prices at some point during the next school year.

Elementary students in the district currently pay $2.25 for school lunches. Middle-schoolers pay $2.50 per lunch.

Gordon said the amount the district receives per lunch in subsidies is "a moving target" because the number is tied to inflation. That means the district likely will keep increasing lunch prices in the near future as the subsidies increase in value.

"As we move incrementally towards that, we're gaining ground, but we're quite a ways away from reaching where we're even with (the federal guideline)," he said.

Gordon said the district's lunch program is on firm footing financially, with about $2 million in carryover at the end of this school year. He said, however, permanent improvements in dining facilities throughout the district will cut heavily into that carryover in the years to come.

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