A combination of goverment nutrition mandates and the increasing cost of food led the Board of Education Tuesday to approve a 20 cent increase in school lunches beginning the next school year.
"The program is running fine," Business Manager Mike Belden said, "but mandated costs have caused us not to meet our budget requirements."
The 20 cent increase times 180 lunches means parents will have to spend an additional $36 over the course of the school year, he said. Currently meals at the elementary schools cost $2.25 and cost $2.50 at the middle and high schools.
"Even with the 20 cent increase, we still have the lowest school lunch prices in the Greater New Haven area," board member Jim Pascarella said.
Some of the increase comes from mandates of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Belden said, that requires servings of fruit and vegtables with every meal.
It's the first increase in school lunch prices since the 2006/07 school year, Belden said.
And even with the increase, it's a good deal, Pascarella said. "I can't get a muffin and a coffee for that, and they're getting a whole lunch," he said.
It's going to be important to make sure all students who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices are identified and included in that program, Supt. of Schools Fran Rabinowitz said. Social workers diligently work to identify eligible students, she said, but it's harder as the children get older.
Several years ago, when the district instituted Pay for Play sports programs, the free and reduced lunch numbers increased 50 percent because it was a requirement to be exempt from the playing fee, Pascarella said.
But often students at Hamden High School won't sign up for the program because of the stigma, Pascarella said.
"There's certainly student apathy," he said, "and the high school students don't want to apply because of the stigma -- they would rather go without lunch."
It's especially important to identify eligible students in the elementary schools who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, Rabinowitz said, because the school's eligibility to qualify for Title I funds is dependent upon those numbers.
In schools like Dunbar Hill, counselors have contacted all parents to make sure that those who qualify for the program are aware of it and given the opportunity to take advantage of it, she said.