School Board tables decision

Published 11:38 pm Friday, June 10, 2011

JACKSON — The Northampton County Board of Education has delayed its decision on a federal mandate to increase the price of school lunches.

On Monday, board tabled their decision to raise lunch prices by 25 cents to $1.85.

The price increase was recommended in lieu of section 205 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-296), which requires schools to raise their paid lunch prices to the same as federal reimbursements for free lunches.

“A provision of this act requires school food authorities to ensure that schools provide the same level of support to all students regardless of their free or reduced lunch status,” said Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews as he presented the item for approval. “Administration recommends increasing the price of paid lunch from the current $1.60 to $1.85 for the 2011-2012 school year. This action will gradually implement the proposed requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

Several board members voiced their concerns about the price increase.

Vice Chair Marjorie Edwards questioned why the price was being increased.

“Public Law 111-296 is a federal law that guides the free and reduced lunch program,” explained Matthews. “This federal law basically proposes that the cost of a paid student lunch equal the reimbursement paid to the school system for a free lunch. That all takes effect July 1.”

Matthews added the current federal reimbursement rate is $2.76.

“Our current charge for a (paid student) lunch is $1.60, which is a difference gap of $1.16,” he said.

Matthews said the 25 cent increase this year is to prevent having to make a $1.16 increase all at one time.

“What is the financial status of the child nutrition program? It is making money, correct?” asked Board member Kelvin Edwards.

“It’s not about the financial status of the Child Nutrition Department, it’s about being in compliance with federal law with reimbursement of funds,” responded Matthews.

“It just seems like we’re asking students who pay for lunch to pay more for lunch, so that essentially it won’t look bad because the government gives us a reimbursement of $2.00,” said Board member Erica Smith-Ingram.  “Now we want these students who already have to pay and, I’m one of those parents that pay and I’m telling you it can get very expensive. We live in a high poverty area, times are tight.”

Matthews said he understood were Ingram’s point, but in his view the mandate is not coming from them, rather the federal government.

Ingram questioned if the increase could be delayed.

Edwards said he thought an explanation along with a copy of the actual law would be helpful in the board’s decision.

Matthews said that could be provided.

The board agreed to table their decision for now.