LAKELAND - Facing rising food and gas prices, Polk County School Board members will vote today on increasing lunch prices for elementary and high school students.
If the increase passes, prices for elementary students will rise by a nickel, while high school students will pay an extra dime next school year. The increases would take effect with the start of the new school year in the fall.
Currently, lunches cost $1.65 for elementary students and $1.90 for middle and high school students who pay full price.
School Board members will discuss the increase at a work session this morning in Bartow before a vote later in the regular board meeting.
Supporting the increase is difficult during tough times, board member Margaret Lofton said.
“My heart goes out to families who are struggling to make ends meet,” Lofton said. “The only decent meal some kids get all day long is at school.”
Federally subsidized lunches for needy students will not be affected, said Mary Grey, assistant superintendent of business services.
The federal government provides $2.49 for needy students who receive free meals, $2.09 for reduced-price lunches and 25 cents for students who pay full price. Sixty percent of students in the district receive free or reduced-price lunches.
The last time lunch prices increased was in the 2005-06 school year because of rising labor costs.
Food costs have driven up prices.
Wheat prices have increased 11 percent. Dairy is up 16 percent. And juice prices have surged 22 percent. This year, the School District is expected to spend nearly $1 million more on milk and $10,000 more on wheat compared with last year, according to estimates.
“We have had to absorb a lot of additional costs,” said Marcia Smith, food service director for the school district.
Polk still serves one of the cheapest lunches in the area.
In Hillsborough County, lunches in the 2008-09 school year will cost $1.75 and $2.25 for elementary and high school students, respectively. In Orange County, lunches cost $1.80 for elementary students and $2.50 for high school students.
“We´re doing a good job compared to other districts,” Lofton said.