LAKE PLACID - The Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education has delayed plans to increase the price of school meals.
At Tuesday's organizational meeting, the board tabled a measure that would have increased the cost of breakfast and lunch at the elementary school to $1.35 and $2 respectively. The price of breakfast and lunch at the middle-high school would have increased to $1.35 and $2.25, and the cost for adults would have become $2.20 and $4.
That would have been 10 cents more for breakfast and 25 cents more for lunch than what was charged in the 2011-12 school year.
"That's a lot," school board member Janet Smith said.
New board member John Hopkinson, who was appointed to Jerry Blair's newly vacant seat earlier at that same meeting, said he was concerned about the price increases. He said that although on paper they are "only maybe a nickel, dime here and there," the percentage increases are significant.
"Those are between 8 and 15 or so percent increases, and for some people who are barely getting by, I think that's pretty steep," Hopkinson said. "My philosophy is, if we are trying to break even, I think we're kind of asking people to cover our sloppiness of what we think our costs might be just to make sure we're covering ourselves.
"I don't think we should be doing it on the backs of those people," he added.
New school board President Mary Dietrich noted that some students rely on school meals.
The district's budget officer, Leonard Sauers, said new state nutrition guidelines will eventually force prices up to $2.51.
"It's an open-ended requirement; there's no date yet set," he said. "That was one of the reasons why we made that jump this year."
Officials with the state Education Department could not be reached for comment on the nutrition guidelines on Thursday.
Sauers said increasing the prices by a smaller margin now would avoid increases of 50 cents or more when the guidelines take hold.
But Hopkinson said that mandate isn't in effect yet.
"If it's going to have a big jump to that point, that needs to be a part of a communication process to the community to say, 'This is kind of out of our ability to control,'" he said.
In addition to the pending guidelines, the rising cost of food is driving the potential price increases. Hopkinson said the school could still lose revenue, however, because some parents may not pay for more expensive school meals.
"We may get fewer people buying lunches," school board member Janet Smith added.
Herb Stoerr said that before he joined the board, the meal program had a $40,000 deficit.
"We slowly dug our way out of it," he said.
Superintendent Randy Richards said the board has always strived to keep prices reasonable so students can eat. The goal, he said, is to break even on meals - not to make money.
Patti Gallagher noted that the district is looking at the size of meal portions. She said right now, kindergarteners get the same amount of food as fifth-graders.
"A lot of that is so much waste because they don't eat it and it gets thrown away," Gallagher said. "With changes (to) that being looked at, that really should save our district money."
Hopkinson asked administrators to provide more information on food costs before the board makes a decision on meal prices.
Smith noted that low-income students do have access to the district's free and reduced lunch program, so meal prices apply to those families who don't qualify for that.
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