School lunch price increase considered

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By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos School Board is considering raising the price of school lunch by as much as 25 cents in reaction to a price increase by the district school lunch supplier, Summit.
According to the Los Alamos Public School District’s CFO, John Wolfe, Summit is raising its price from $3.71 to $3.79. The price the district currently charges consumers of the lunch is $3.75. In light of Summit’s price change, the district is considering raising the consumer price to a minimum of $3.80 or perhaps to $4.
“Obviously, (Summit’s price increase) puts us in an immediate deficit situation as far as operating costs go,” Wolfe said to the board. “We are going to have to raise the price.”
Wolfe also reported that so far, the lunch program is running at a profit, but, LAPS is unsure what the New Mexico Department of Education’s new reimbursement rates for free and reduced lunch will be in light of Summit’s price hike.
There are also so impending equipment repairs and modifications that have to be made in the district’s middle school kitchen as well. According to Wolfe, the new price of $4 should be adequate to cover these unknown costs with the program running a deficit.
Regina Mertz, a business service specialist with the school system, also told the board that it needs to make a decision soon, since the school’s school lunch website needs at least a 10-day lead time to update the site. Also she said, the elementary schools usually send out information about the school lunch program mid-july.
“...It makes it very difficult to plan, but if we do not make a decision about the new price that we will charge for next year, we will not have an opportunity to put that in place by the time school starts,” she said to the board.
According to Mertz, the district won’t know what NMPED’s reimbursement rate will be until sometime in July.
School Board Vice President Kevin Honnell told the administration that the school board would like more information before it votes on a price hike.
He also asked the administration, as it gathers information, that it should pay close attention to supply and demand when it comes to school lunch program, so it can set an accurate price as possible.
“Four dollars sounds like a fairly modest increase, but if it causes demand to drop off to the point that it kills the goose that’s laying the golden eggs then it’s a mistake,” he said.
Honnell also said there may be other ways to trim the meal cost as well, such as dipping into the funds the district gets from leasing space to LANL and small businesses in Los Alamos to repair and acquire new equipment for the middle school kitchen.
“I personally would be happy to consider using lease funds to replace a dishwasher if it meant keeping the program alive, and if keeping the program alive we had to charge $3.80 rather than $4,” he said.
Honnell then said it would be a good idea before the board votes to poll the district’s parent-teacher council, the district’s parent teacher organizations and other consumers of the school lunch program to see what they thought of the price increases as well as what they thought of the $3.80 and $4 price points.
That way, he said, the board would have more of an understanding about what the consumers of the program want before they vote for a price increase.
Wolfe and Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt said they would get back with the board by the next work session with more information.
The next work session is June 26.
The next board meeting is scheduled for early July.