At the regular Westerville City School Board meeting, board members approved increasing school lunch prices by 10 cents for the 2015-16 school year.
Elementary school lunches this year are $2.50 and will rise to $2.60. Middle and high school lunches will rise from $2.75 to $2.85.
Schools that participate in the national school lunch program must provide fair pricing, and based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture formula the average school lunch price in the Westerville district must be $2.70 in order to be in compliance with the law, according to Kari Dennis, the district's manager of food service and purchasing.
Dennis said currently the district is not charging enough because the October 2014 lunch count data showed the average lunch price was $2.61.
To minimize the impact on Westerville families, it was suggested the school board vote to increase prices by 10 cents for all grade levels.
The new revenue will offset the increased cost of food supply, employee labor and health benefits.
Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker asked Dennis, "What would happen if we told the feds 'no'?"
To which Dennis replied, the district could be found to be out of compliance with federal regulations, which could potentially jeopardize the district's funding.
"I realize we're only talking 50 cents a week (per student) but it's a difficult thing for me to justify it because we have sufficient revenue in the department," said Nestor-Baker. "But, if I vote no, I'd be risking losing funding which would be a heck of a lot more than 50 cents a week. ... I consider this to be federal overreach," she said.
Board member Richard Bird echoed Nestor-Baker's frustrations.
"I find it fascinating that the federal government feels the need to inject itself in determining what we can and cannot serve and then also dictates what we must charge. This is almost to the point where there is no local control and it's frustrating," he said.
Before the board voted unanimously to approve the increase in lunch prices, Dennis gave a Food Service Department overview report to the board.
The Food Service Department has 93 employees and $4.7 million in projected revenue for this school year, she said. About 51 percent of that comes from Federal Claims Reimbursement, to fund the district's free and reduced-price meals program.
Another significant revenue source for the department is student a-la-carte purchases, which account for 41 percent of revenue.
The department is in the black and even has approximately $1.2 million in reserve funds, according to the most recent financial report. However, the food service department is required to keep just over $1 million dollars, or three months of operating costs, on hand.
The department has served an average of 5,329 meals daily so far this school year, and serves 39 percent of the student population.
In the district, about 58 percent of students receive free lunches, 8 percent get reduced-price lunch and 34 percent pay full price.
Since 2001, there has been a consistent rise in the number of free and reduced lunches.
Dennis told the board about the strict USDA guidelines that govern what may be offered in school lunches.
For example, schools must ensure meals average a specific caloric requirement, contain a certain number of fruits and vegetables and less than 10 percent in saturated fat.
Dennis said the department will continue to listen to student feedback, as it plans for upcoming renovations to the Pointview Elementary cafeteria and possibly the Walnut Springs Middle School cafeteria.
Superintendent John Kellogg commended the Food Service Department for helping students of all ages make healthy eating choices.