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Price of school meals going up in Warren County

By Joe Beck -- jback@nvdaily.com
Warren County public school students not eligible for free or reduced price lunches will pay up to 15 cents more each day for meals under a price increase for the 2012 to 2013 academic year approved unanimously by the school board Thursday night.

Robert Ballentine, the schools' director of finance, said the increase was the first of several that will be needed in the years to come as the system tries to catch up to price levels required by the federal government. The school system is allowed to raise its prices gradually instead of trying to make up the difference in a single year.

Under the federal requirements, a school system must charge paying students at least $2.51 per lunch. The $2.51 price equals the difference between the federal reimbursement rate for free lunches, which are valued at $2.77, and the federal reimbursement rate of 26 cents for each paid lunch.

Paid lunches in Warren County Public Schools currently cost $1.60 for elementary school students and $1.75 for middle and high school students.

Under the increase approved by the school board, a household with two children not eligible for free or reduced lunches would pay about $55 more a year for school meals, assuming both students take breakfast and lunch each day of the school year.

Ballentine said the price increase breaks down to 10 cents for each lunch and five cents for each breakfast. The federal law governing school lunch subsidies and prices is not the only reason for the increase, he said.

He cited the 2 percent salary increase employees will be receiving and food price inflation as other factors affecting school lunch prices.

The federal government does not require an increase in breakfast prices, but Ballentine said the five cent price increase was necessary to cover rising food costs associated with efforts to add more healthy foods to school breakfast offerings.

"All of us have experienced the fact that to eat healthy costs more than to eat less healthy," Ballentine said.

Ballentine said Warren County school meal prices are still reasonable compared to those in neighboring school systems.

"We're still very, very competitive in what we're asking for meal prices," he said.

In a written explanation accompanying the proposal, Ballentine estimated the price increases will generate an extra $38,000 for the school system, money that must "be used only for legitimate school food service expenses."

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