Austin school district to raise lunch prices
AUSTIN — Public schools students will have to pack a little more lunch money in the coming year.
The school board voted earlier this month to increase lunch prices by 10 cents at all levels.
That brings prices to $2.40 for lunch in elementary schools, $2.50 for grades 5-8, and $2.60 at the high school. The increase was prompted by federal regulations, said Food Service Director Mary Weikum.
“Part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is that full-paid school lunches eventually need to get to the same amount as we are reimbursed for a free lunch,” Weikum said. “They don’t want the reimbursement for free lunches subsidizing full-pay students, so we’re significantly under that amount by 40 to 50 cents.”
Weikum said the school district has been gradually increasing its prices on school lunches by about 10 cents every other year since the act was signed into law in 2010.
Students who qualify for the free lunch program will not be affected by the price increase. Currently, about 60 percent of students in the district qualify for free lunch.
Rather, the increase will only affect families who are deemed to have the means to pay for the school lunches.
Weikum and Austin School Board director Richard Lees say that they’ve yet to hear a complaint from parents of those affected families, though both add that it’s still too soon to truly gauge the public’s feelings.
“It’s been pretty quiet around here so far, but it’s still a little early for anybody to get too excited,” Lees said. “There haven’t been any lawn signs.”
Both understand that no one wants to see price increases, but Lees echoed Weikum in saying that the district’s hands are tied due to the fact that the increase stems from a federal law.
With that being said, Weikum points out that she’s fully aware that there will be families burdened by the price increase due to face financial hardships, even though they technically aren’t eligible for free lunch.
“We have a significant amount of families that do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but who really struggle to make the payments,” Weikum said.
To help combat that issue, Weikum says that the school has what’s known as the “Lunch Tray Program,” which currently gives out some free lunches each day to students whose families just missed the qualification for free lunch.
The program, which accepts donations, currently has the means to feed roughly 20 kids per day during the upcoming school year.
“The idea of the program is to help the people who are out working really hard and maybe just miss qualifying by a tiny bit, and to help them by taking one debt or bill off their plate,” Weikum said.
The price increase will go into effect this upcoming school year.