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Fed Lunch Program Reimburses Ten Cents More for School Lunches

While the 2011-2012 Federal School Lunch Reimbursement Program will offer it's first increase in more than 30 years, it comes with a catch.

At the July 21 School Committee Meeting, Food Services Director, Carla Tuttle informed the board of a mandate put forth by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) which requires school districts to bring their school lunch pricing in line with the amount of reimbursement provided by the Federal Government. The USDA is the agency, which oversees the program for the nation's school systems.

Chairperson, Loriann Baranauskas, informed the board that Tuttle had, earlier in the summer, brought to her attention a correspondence from the USDA, which detailed the mandate. "It seems there's been a disparity across the nation ... in regards to what the Federal government is paying ... compared to what school's (actually) charge for their school lunches," Baranauskas stated.

Tuttle, who had been previously instructed to "come up with a three-year plan" for adjusting prices to the Federal requirements, presented her year-one recommendation to the board, which calls for a ten-cent increase in the cost of elementary school lunch prices, while keeping high school and middle-school pricing at their current $2.50 level. During the past school year, the cost of elementary lunches was set at $2. The Federal reimbursement to the district is currently $2.46 per lunch, with an increase of five-cents per lunch, expected for the coming year.

Baranauskas pointed out that the mandate allows for pricing adjustments to be made in smaller increments "of a nickel or a dime" so long as "we're moving in that effort." Under those conditions, she indicated, the district "won't be charged the difference out of our local budget".

The USDA has also been charged with requiring school districts to move towards providing healthier fare for school lunch menus. Tuttle noted that "we've already started making changes (in the menu items)" to provide "more healthy choices ... more fruits and vegetables". Tuttle also mentioned that she has been in discussions with School Superintendent, Robert Tremblay, in regard to the feasibility of locating a greenhouse on school grounds for the purpose of "growing stuff here at the school ... if we can get the funding."

Committee member, Patrick Kennelly, wondered, considering the move toward more healthy food choices, whether or not the ten-cent increase would "completely cover your cost." He added, "The healthier you want to eat, the more costs (are) associated. I don't want to (have to) turn this into a five-year program."

Tuttle responded that the increase would be adequate to cover costs for the coming year, while Baranauskas reiterated that the board was only being asked to vote on "year-one" for the time being. "She'll have to come back next year and we'll do this again," the Chairperson noted.

Tuttle added that because the district must wait to see what the Federal reimbursement rate will be, "unfortunately, every year we're going to have to ... to see where we're at."


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