School lunch prices rising

Published 4:20 pm Monday, August 19, 2019

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Effective this September, student lunch prices at all Isle of Wight County public schools will increase by 10 cents, putting elementary school lunches at $2.55 and middle and high school lunches at $2.75. A la carte prices will also increase by approximately 10 cents.

Isle of Wight County’s School Board voted to enact this price increase in June after receiving a memorandum from Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton, which explained that a provision in the federal Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school divisions to review and adjust paid meal prices annually using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Paid Lunch Equity Tool. This tool is designed to calculate what, if any, price increases are needed. According to IWCS’s spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, this tool indicated that the school division should be charging $3 lunches for all grade levels.

However, the 2010 law also limits school divisions to increasing their lunch prices by no more than 10 cents annually, and allows divisions three options for implementing the mandated price increases: pass the entirety of the increase onto students, offset the increase using non-federal funds, or some combination of options one and two. Thornton and Rachel Trollinger, Isle of Wight County Schools’ executive director of budget and finance, both urged the School Board in June to choose the first of these options, which the Board did. Trollinger had stated that option two would have necessitated pulling $16,041 out of the division’s General Fund, and that option three would have required a price increase of 5 cents and a fund transfer of $8,020.50.

With the price increase passed along to students, IWCS’s lunch prices will now be between 15 to 25 cents higher than those of Southampton County Public Schools. According to Alice Williams, spokeswoman for SCPS, Southampton recently raised lunch prices by 5 cents to $2.40 for elementary school lunches and $2.50 for middle and high school lunches for the 2019-2020 school year. Suffolk Public Schools, according to spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, also recently raised its meal prices by 10 cents, and will charge 85 cents for breakfast, $2 for elementary school lunches and $2.10 for middle and high school lunches starting this September. Even with Suffolk’s corresponding price increase, Isle of Wight County Schools’ new lunch prices are still 55 cents higher for elementary school students and 65 cents higher for middle and high school students.

As for how Suffolk handles lunch debt, Bradshaw explained that when a student’s negative account balance exceeds $15, the school division’s Food & Nutrition Services Department will attempt to contact the parent or guardian by phone and a collection letter will be mailed to the parent’s or guardian’s household requesting payment within 10 business days. If payment is not received by that deadline, the unpaid debt is turned over to the city’s treasurer for collection.

She confirmed that, like Isle of Wight, Suffolk does not deny students a complete meal, even if they have accrued a negative balance on their accounts, and does not label or identify students who cannot pay. Nor does the division make students work for their meals or work to settle any unpaid meal charges. Students are still allowed to charge meals even if their unpaid debt has been turned over to the city treasurer, Bradshaw added.