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Govt. regulations prompt rise in Dedham school lunch prices, officials say

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  April 5, 2013 02:28 PM

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Dedham’s school lunch prices will increase next school year as a result of federal and state regulations aimed at making meals healthier, according to school officials.

School Committee members voted unanimously for the price hikes – from $2.50 to $2.75 in elementary schools, from $2.75 to $3 in middle school, from $2.75 to $3.50 at the high school, and from $3.75 to $4.50 for teacher lunches – at a meeting Wednesday, but some members were unhappy about it.

“I’m opposed to what I view as excessive regulation,” said School Committee member Tom Ryan Wednesday, shortly before the vote. “I didn’t think what we were serving the children before was so catastrophic to their well-being.”

Dedham’s school lunch program is crunched between the Federal “Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act” and a new state “Healthy Students, Healthy Goals” law, both of which went into effect in September 2012, according to Dedham Schools Food Service Director Jeanne Johnson.

Johnson laid out new requirements in the two laws and showed how they effect the school meal program’s financial situation.

The federal law requires all students to take a fruit or vegetable with each meal. Cost: $15,464. More expensive, specific vegetables must be offered daily. Cost: $23,321. Reduction in meat and bread portions have negatively affected students’ perception of school meals, so fewer students have been buying them. Cost: $8,806.

Dedham was the first district in the state to be certified and validated, which comes with a $0.06 reimbursement per meal, totaling $9,328 in new revenue.

The overall effect of the federal law is an additional cost of $38,262, Johnson said. She added that waste has also become a problem, as many students are throwing out vegetables on their plates and cafeteria workers are forced to throw away portions of prepared foods that are too large for the federal law’s requirements.

On top of that, the new Massachusetts law costs the school lunch program $19,614 due to limits on the the snacks offered, for a total of $57,876.

Food service is a self-funded department, meaning that school lunch revenue must pay for all expenses in the department, Johnson said.

“The costs are being put right back on the taxpayers,” said Superintendent June Doe at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s a hidden tax you’re actually absorbing.”

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