The cost to eat meals at school is going up.
School trustees in Helena and East Helena approved an increase to breakfast and lunch prices this week, and the prices will continue to increase until the regular lunch price matches the federal reimbursement for students who receive free lunches.
This fall, families will pay 25 cents more for lunch and 10 cents more for breakfast. For lunch, that’s $2.15 for elementary and middle school students and $2.25 for high school. It’s now $1.10 at all levels for breakfast.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program to provide the level of financial support for paid meal service to students who are not eligible for free lunches.
“We will soon be required to increase school lunch (prices) to more closely reflect what the school is reimbursed from the federal government for free and reduced lunch,” East Helena Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said Monday night at the board meeting.
The prices will slowly increase until they meet the reimbursement prices of $2.46 for lunch.
“Even though we can operate our program in the black, you are being forced by the federal government to do this,” Whitmoyer said.
The price increase takes away local control and the hike gets passed on to families, Whitmoyer said.
“I don’t want to go to my families and say you have to suck it up because the federal government says you have to — it’s not right,” he said.
The cost of living is not the same across the country and Whitmoyer said he should have to treat families in the East Helena district as if it were. He, however, has no choice.
Kim Harris, business manager for the Helena School District, says she doesn’t expect the change to impact the budget or the number of students eating meals at school.
For the recently completely school year, a student in a family of four with an annual income no greater than $28,665 is eligible for free lunch.
Sodexo, the food service provider for Helena Schools, serves free lunch to all children under 18 during the summer months at local parks near low-income housing. The district receives a per-meal reimbursement from the government and in turn it pays Sodexo based on the number of meals served.
The Helena School District pays Sodexo $2.33 per meal.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org