By Alex Lippa
---- — Students should be prepared to spend a little more at lunchtime next year.
Timberlane and Londonderry school administrators have recommended raising lunch prices in the fall. Other districts may, too.
Timberlane will raise its prices 10 cents, in part to meet federal reimbursement rates, but also to overcome a lunch program deficit that was nudging $100,000 at the end of February.
Londonderry School District business administrator Peter Curro planned to recommend a 15-cent increase to the School Board last night.
Lunch prices in the Timberlane district range from $2 at the elementary school level to $2.75 at the high school. The price for adults will go up 10 cents to $3.60.
Timberlane superintendent Earl Metzler said the primary reason for the increase is to reach the mandated federal reimbursement rate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
School districts receive federal funds for every school lunch, $2.86 for each student who qualifies for a free lunch and 27 cents for a paying student. Districts must charge, on average, the difference between the two rates.
“We want to stay in line with federal guidelines, while keeping it reasonable for the taxpayer,” Metzler said.
But the price hike should also help a program that reported losing $94,000 by the end of February. Metzler said school lunch participation was down nationwide, but would not elaborate on why Timberlane’s program had lost so much money.
Despite the big loss, Timberlane Regional School District may stay with the same provider.
The district is in negotiations with Whitson’s Culinary Group for next year, Metzler said. The school has a five-year contract with Whitson’s, but officials were considering taking advantage of an opt-out clause after a rough first year.
Metzler had floated the idea of the district running its own food service program, but the contract with Whitson’s may not allow that.
“There are provisions that make that not a prudent option,” Metzler said, “and working it out with the food service provider is in best interest of children and workers.”
The previous contract said Timberlane could not hire Whitson’s employees for one year if the district opted out of the contract. One-third of the district’s food service employees were paid by Whitson’s and the school had expressed interest in bringing them on payroll for next year.
Metzler said the majority of the debt will be covered by money from the budget surplus. A small portion will be covered by Whitson’s.
The major loss was a surprise to Timberlane officials, but Metzler said officials are confident they can turn things around next year.
“We are hitting the reset button and starting from zero,” he said. “Our goals are to break even while providing nutritious lunches for our children.”
In Londonderry, Curro said the 15-cent increase was based on both the reimbursement rate and a desire to keep the program solvent.
Prices there range from $1.60 to $1.95 this year. Other school districts haven’t yet ruled out price increases.
Jane Simard, business administrator of the Derry School District, said she could suggest a price hike to the School Board next week.
“We are still in the process of working on a formula,” Simard said. “We don’t know what we will recommend yet.”
Salem School District officials typically don’t decide on lunch prices until June.