District could see lunch price increase next year

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District wants to decrease the cost of student nutritional services next year through an increase in lunch prices and by enrolling in federal programs.

Next month, Assistant Superintendent David Jones will recommend that elementary lunches be increased from $2.85 apiece to $3, secondary lunches be increased from $3.35 to $3.50 and the adult lunches be increased from $4.25 to $4.50. Elementary and secondary lunches include milk. Adult lunches do not. 

Milk prices could increase by 15 cents to 75 cents for both white and chocolate milk. Currently, the district is paying 37 cents for white milk and 38 cents for chocolate milk.

“Our costs have been going up, so we’re going to increase it some to keep some type of profit margin,” Jones said during a Board of Education work session in Seward on Monday.

Currently, the district’s lunch prices are the lowest among the five big school districts in the state, Jones said.

According to their individual school district websites, elementary lunches cost cost $3.25 in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, $3.50 in Fairbanks, $3.55 in Anchorage and $4 in Juneau.

“What that does, then, looking at next year, it doesn’t put us at the lead of the pack. It puts us in the bottom or middle,” Jones said.

Currently, the district administrators budget $1.2 million for student nutritional services and have proposed a $1.1 million budget for fiscal year 2018, Jones said. The increase in prices would save the district about $34,000.

“We’re just trying to cover our costs. I don’t want anyone to think we’re trying to make a profit,” said Board of Education member Lynn Hohl during Monday’s work session.

The district administrators also want to decrease nutritional service expenditures next year by enrolling the schools in Nanwalek and Nikolaevsk and Tebughna School in Tyonek into the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that allows 100 percent of students in a low-income school to eat at no cost and without the “burden of collecting household applications,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If (the school) has 50 percent more of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch, (the program) allows us to feed all of the kids for free and we get federal reimbursement rates for that,” Jones said. “…It should more than pay for itself.”

The district plans to start with the three schools and “see how that works,” Jones said, while also looking to break down any stigma or confusion associated with applying for free or reduced-cost lunches.

“We’ve got a number of schools, from the outside looking in, that we believe should be at that 50 percent, or higher, but aren’t,” Jones said.

To combat this, Jones said the district will have food service staff members at parent-teacher conferences in the fall to walk parents through the eligibility and application process for free and reduced-cost lunches.

The district administrators have also been working throughout the year to decrease nutritional services costs, including a reduction in the amount of paper, plastic and foam products used. They switched from foam trays to reusable trays at four schools since December, saving the school $4,400, according to board documents.

“It may cost us less to be greener,” Jones said.

West Homer and McNeil Canyon schools have opted to use no sporks and instead use reusable spoons and forks, with a savings of $100 cases of sporks and $1,500, the documents said.

“With some of these changes, in actuality… knock on wood, I think we have the possibility of going under $1 million, which would be a great effort,” Jones said. “We’re on the good road with the Student Nutritional Services and will continue working.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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