School lunch prices to increase by 10 cents in 2014-15 academic year

By Christine Sampson, csampson@vagazette.com

The Virginia Gazette

9:35 PM EDT, August 5, 2014


JAMES CITY – School lunch prices in Williamsburg-James City will rise by 10 cents during the 2014-15 school year after a 6-1 vote by the WJC School Board on Tuesday night.

Elementary lunches will now cost $2.40, middle school lunches will now cost $2.50 and high school lunches will now range $2.65-$3.40.

The School Board actually had little choice in the matter – it all has to do with the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. During the 2013-14 school year, the government provided a $2.99 reimbursement for free lunches and a 34-cent reimbursement for paid lunches. According to that federal law, if the difference between those two amounts was greater than the price of a school system's paid lunch prices – and in WJC's case, it was – then the school system would be required to raise its lunch prices. Otherwise, it wouldn't be eligible for the federal school lunch funding.

Board member Heather Cordasco, who cast the dissenting vote, said based on what she has been told, WJC Schools is not in a position to turn down that federal funding and set its own flexible prices and policies.

"They're putting us in an untenable situation. In order for us to get the money, we have to change those prices whenever they say," she said. "We have so little control. ... The whole thing is just not really responsive to where we are locally. If they trusted school systems to make the best decisions, that would be better."

According to Jane Haley, WJC's supervisor of child nutrition, breakfast prices will remain the same. "There will be some increases in snack and a la carte items, but they are not finalized yet," she said in an email to the Gazette.

According to data provided by WJC Schools at the July 22 School Board meeting, lunch prices at the elementary level have had an inverse relationship with the number of lunches served over the past three years. The division sold 240,925 lunches at the elementary school price of $2.30 during the 2013-14 school year. That was a drop from 277,873 during the 2012-13 school year, when the cost of the elementary school lunch was $2.20. During the 2011-12 school year, when the elementary school lunch cost $2.15, the school division sold 399,265 lunches.

Free and reduced lunches have accounted for a growing percentage of total lunches sold in WJC Schools. In 2009-10, the free and reduced lunch program accounted for 48.8 percent of all lunches served in WJC Schools, according to data provided at the July 22 meeting. However, by 2013-14, free and reduced lunches accounted for 65.1 percent of all lunches served in WJC Schools.

Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.