The Derry School Board approved a 10-cent per meal increase in school lunch prices, in response to Federal guidelines.
The board approved the increase at its Dec. 16 meeting after hearing an update from Business Administrator Jane Simard and Food Service Director Susan Baroskas.
Simard explained that due to a Federal mandate and formula, the district is required to increase the lunch prices. “We hoped we wouldn’t have to do it,” Simard said.
Baroskas said that every year the district gets a new formula of what the Feds think it should charge for school lunches. It is a weighted formula that balances the average number of children who pay full price for lunch against the price they pay. Last year the formula required the district to charge 10 cents more, and this year it is mandated to charge another 10 cents. The new price comes out to $2.40 for elementary schools and $2.50 for middle schools.
“We just follow the directions,” Baroskas said.
There were other options, Baroskas said. One is having the School District subsidize the extra 10 cents, but “that has not typically been a good idea.”
Member Dan McKenna noted that other districts, notably Salem, are leaving the Federal program altogether.
Baroskas said districts all around the country are dropping out, but that she wasn’t sure it was a good idea for Derry. Also, she said, “I don’t know what these districts are going to do about Free and Reduced lunch.”
“Are the students eating more?” member Brenda Willis asked. “Are they throwing food away, or are they happy with their choices?”
The district is still having problems with the Federal nutrition guidelines, Baroskas said. The Federal guidelines mandate that each child must take a fruit or a vegetable, and that doesn’t always go over well, she said. “Yesterday I was in one of our cafeterias and I saw an apple go into the garbage,” she said.
Derry is combating the potential waste by wrapping the mandatory fruit and placing a bowl near the checkout. That way a child can legally put the fruit on their tray and dispose of it. The wrapped fruit is then available to any other child in the cafeteria, she said, and the leftovers from that are used in the After-School Program.
The board voted to approve the change, and Simard said it would be instituted in January, after a campaign to inform parents.
But there’s also bright news coming from the kitchen, Baroskas said. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program at Grinnell Elementary School is going well, allowing children to try new fruits and veggies four times a week, subsidized by a Federal grant. “This year we bought lots of local tomatoes,” Baroskas said, and she was able to use them not only at Grinnell but across the district.
The new policy of not allowing a child to have more than $5 negative balance has also worked out well, Baroskas said. The district has gone from $12,000 in outstanding school lunch balances to a little under $3,000, she said. She’s also been receiving donations from the community to help, and she’s been able to apply $1,200 to various children’s balances.
Baroskas thanked her staff, saying, “My ladies do a good job with limited resources. They come in every day with smiles on their faces, ready to feed the kids.”