School lunch will cost more this year

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By Larry Rowell

Meal prices in local public schools will increase for the first time in six years this fall.

Both the Campbellsville Independent and Taylor County school boards approved an increase of 25 cents for student meals at their last meetings.

Breakfast prices for the elementary, middle and high school will be $1 and the adult breakfast will be $1.25. Lunch prices are $1.50 for the elementary school, $1.75 for the middle and high school, and $2.50 for adults.

But school officials say the increase will mostly affect parents of students who don't qualify for financial assistance in purchasing meals at school.

Students who qualify for the free or reduced price meals will feel less of a pinch.

"The 25-cent increase is the minimum amount that can be raised to scrape by," Campbellsville Food Services Director Jeff Richardson said.

Gertie Graves, food services director for 21 years at Taylor County Schools, agreed with Richardson. She said the price of all foods, especially corn products, has gone up so much that suppliers who once quoted a price for the school year will now only quote a price for six months.

Apples are up $7 a case and Graves said milk costs for the upcoming year are expected to increase by $75,000.

Graves and Richardson said they are united in their desire to keep prices down while offering the most nutritious food possible.

One way to hold prices down, Richardson said, is to bid the two school systems' food programs together. Greater volume translates into lower prices for some foods.

"There may be a rivalry between Campbellsville and Taylor County Schools," he said, "but not when it comes to feeding our kids."

School funding based on free and reduced meals program

The number of students who receive free or reduced price meals is tied to the amount of funds that the school systems receive for family resource and youth services centers and other programs.

But if families who qualify for the free or reduced meals program do not fill out the form and return it to school, then not only will they have to pay for their children's lunches, but state and federal funding is lost.

"Pretty much everything we do is affected by the free and reduced price meal program," said Marcie Close, finance and business director for Taylor County Schools.

Close said the majority of the school's finances come from the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky or S.E.E.K. fund. This funding, along with additional federal funding, is based on the number of students who have submitted the form and qualified for the meal program.

Programs such as the family resource and youth services centers are funded based on the number of students in the free or reduced meals program, Close said.

Campbellsville's Family Resource and Youth Services Center funding from the free or reduced meal program combines services for more than 1,100 students from K to 12 said FRYSC Coordinator Sue Crabtree.

She said there are advantages to following students from K to 12 in the same program because it's often difficult to build relationships with students as they get older.

The Taylor County Family Resource Center, located at Taylor County Elementary School, offers a wide variety of services to all students, not just those who qualify for the free or reduced meals program, said Director Ann Mattingly.

"The number of students who receive the free or reduced meals, that's just the formula for funding," she said. "Our services are for all students."

The center offers a variety of services such as school-based health services and referrals and divorce support groups. A complete list of the services offered by the Family Resource Center can be found at www.taylor.k12.ky.us.

A list of Campbellsville's Family Resource and Youth Services Center services can be found at www.cville.k12.ky.us.

Mattingly said it's important for parents to read the form to see if their children qualify for the free or reduced meals. Even if a family qualifies based on income and chooses not to take part in the program, there is a box on the form indicating the parent chooses not to participate in the program.

The form still needs to be turned in to the food services director so the school can receive the funding, Mattingly said.

Confidentiality assured

About half of all children nationwide and in Kentucky receive either a free or reduced price on meals at school. And that's nothing to be ashamed of, Graves said.

That figure is even higher for Campbellsville schools where nearly 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals, Richardson said.

If a family is receiving food stamps or K-TAP assistance, there's no need to fill out the family application for the school meals, Graves said. The agencies supply this information to Graves' and Richardson's offices.

Only one form needs to be filled out for each family. The form should be placed in an envelope addressed with either Graves' or Richardson's name.

The student then gives the sealed envelope to his or her teacher who will ensure that Graves or Richardson receives it. The form can also be taken to either school's central office.

Graves said she's available to help parents fill out the form - she can be contacted at the Taylor County Board of Education at 1209 E. Broadway or at 465-5371. Richardson can be reached at the Campbellsville School District Office at 136 S. Columbia Ave. or at 465-4162.

Graves and Richardson stressed the confidentiality of the free and reduced meals program. Students who receive the free or reduced price meals are in no way singled out as being different.

Some parents are reluctant to fill out the form because it's a pride issue, Graves said. They fear that if their children use the subsidized meal program, other students may make fun of them, she said.

"There's no way for any student, teacher or lunch room worker to know which students get the free or reduced price meals," Graves said.

When a student enters the school system, he or she is given a number for a lunch account.

Each time the student enters the cafeteria, he or she recites the number to the worker. The computer lets the worker know whether the student's account is current, Graves said. In the case of a free or reduced price meal, the machine simply indicates that the student's account is current without indicating it's a free or reduced price account.

While Campbellsville's system is a little different, confidentiality is still assured, Richardson said.

"We don't want to know your business, we want to take care of kids," Graves said.

- Larry Rowell is a Kentucky Press Association summer intern. Contact him at lrowell@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.