Board raises hot lunch prices

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Schools > The cost will now be $4, up from $3.75

By Tris DeRoma

During a recent special session, the school board opted to raise the price of hot lunch by 25 cents, from $3.75 to $4.
Though the board was toying with the idea for a few months, it was all but forced to do so once it received new information about the hot lunch program’s financials at the special session.
During the session, it was revealed that the program actually lost money this year.
According to figures presented by the district’s CFO John Wolfe and business service specialist Regina Mertz, the district finished the program $3,426 in the red. The board weighed this sobering news with other factors, which included an aging dishwasher and heating equipment that apparently is in need of repair.
What prompted the price discussion in the first place was that the district’s hot lunch provider, Summit, recently announced that it was raising its production costs from $3.71 to 3.79. Summit creates the hot lunches off campus and delivers them to the kitchen at the Los Alamos Middle School. From there, they are distributed to the other schools.
The cost of hot lunch probably would have been higher still if it wasn’t for discussions between Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt and the school board. They both agreed that in order to keep costs down, they should find a way to absorb the costs of replacing the aged equipment rather than have the lunch program itself pay for it.
“The thinking is, if we can keep potential costs down, that might mean we can keep the increase of the hot lunch program down,” Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt told the board.
Schmidt also noted to the board that if the district purchases the equipment outright, they own it, and so the next company to run the school lunch program, whether it’s Summit or someone else, wouldn’t have to include the costs of the equipment into its bid. Apparently, Summit’s contract will be up next year.
Secretary Matt Williams said he met with the Parent-Teacher Council over the hot lunch issue, and he said a 25-cent increase seemed like the common sense thing to do. Williams said the Council thought that with a 25-cent increase, the program could afford better options when it came to enhancing the service and providing better quality.
“They seemed to think that a 25-cent increase would be better… it would provide more options, better options so the food is better, rather than just pay 10 to 15 cents more and keep things the way they are now,” Williams said at the meeting.
Some of those options included better food warmers, and possibly more choices for students when it came to side dishes and vegetables. It was also revealed at the meeting that Summit is seriously considering introducing a choice program into one of the elementary schools next year if an increase is approved by the board. If successful, the choice program would be introduced into the other schools.
While it did vote for the increase, the board decided to hold off on the equipment issue for a later time, saying it didn’t have enough information to make a decision yet to settle on a purchasing strategy.
Schmidt welcomed the board’s decision, and thanked them as well as Summit for coming up with price that should satisfy everyone.
“The board is really staking a claim to their belief that no child should be left behind, and that every child needs to be successful through this partnership with Summit to provide meals,” he said. “Kids who’ve eaten aren’t worrying about hunger, they are instead concentrating on learning.”
Last year, the lunch program served 52,594 hot lunches in the Los Alamos Public School District.