School board raises meal prices |

School board raises meal prices

Sara Thompson

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune Zephyr Cove Elementary School kitchen manager Florence Lucchesi removes spaghetti from a warmer for student lunches.

Faced with significant reductions in state funding and rising food costs, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board increased student meals 25 cents on the eve of a new school year.

The school board voted 4-0 on Tuesday to increase school breakfast and lunch prices.

Across the state line, the Douglas County School District Board already approved a districtwide 25-cent increase in May.

Nearly 80 percent of school districts nationwide increased meal costs for the coming year, said Shelley Giannotta, LTUSD school nutrition and purchasing director.

“I’m not looking to make millions of dollars,” Giannotta said. “Kids need food, and they need good nutrition to function.”

Giannotta said she was glad to present food-price increases to the board now, because a lot changed since school got out.

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The nutrition program’s budget took a big hit from the state in June. California previously reimbursed the district 22 cents per meal served, but the state reduced that amount to 2 cents. Giannotta received the notice July 1.

“I saw $5,750 leave with that letter,” Giannotta said.

The loss represents about 6 percent of the expected annual $89,555 reimbursement from the state.

Giannotta said she doesn’t know how much the reimbursement will be for the coming school year or if the district will receive one at all.

“With no (state) budget in place, we can’t know,” Giannotta said.

The state contributes only 6.2 percent of the budget, compared with the federal reimbursement of 65 percent.

Giannotta has explored different options to cope with the limited budget. For example, in response to the cost of individual yogurts increasing by 57.1 percent, bulk yogurt will be purchased. Elementary school cafeteria staff will scoop yogurt into individual cups to save money, Giannotta said.

Increasing food costs aren’t the only problems Giannotta faces. She said maintenance on old kitchen equipment isn’t cheap, but she also can’t afford to buy new equipment.

After listening to the economic variables and trends, Board President Sue Novasel inquired if 25 cents was going to be enough to sustain the program.

“It’s a roll of the dice,” Giannotta said. “I hope it is.”

Board member Wendy David said she wished the proposed increase would have come to the board earlier, because she felt rushed to make the decision before school starts.

Even though summer scheduling crunched the decision time, the board encouraged Giannotta to come back before the board if prices continue to escalate.

Paid school meals weren’t the only things affected – free and reduced-price meal qualifications also changed.

In the 2006-’07 school year, a four-person household’s income had to be less than $26,000 per year to qualify for free meals, and $37,000 for reduced-price meals. This school year, the same household’s income must be less than $27,560 for free meals and $39,220 for reduced meals.

The National School Lunch Program and Breakfast Program establishes eligibility rules.