Despite opposition, a divided Fayette school board on Monday approved a proposal to raise student breakfast prices by 65-cents and student lunch prices by 25-cents for the upcoming school year.
The vote at a meeting was 3-2 with board members Stephanie Spires and Tom Jones voting no. Board chairman Tyler Murphy, and members Amy Green and Christy Morris voted yes.
“I don’t feel comfortable with this price increase,” said Spires, saying it was not something she could support.
With two days before school starts, “families are getting hit every which way,” she said.
Spires said feeding children should be a priority. She said the $500,000 that the district needs to cover increasing costs should be found somewhere other than increasing student meal prices.
For the last two years, all Fayette students ate free due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed increase — the district’s first since the 2016-17 school year — would impact 18 schools, but not 49 Fayette schools where all students receive free meals, district officials have said.
Due to a federal program known as the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, students at the majority of schools in the district eat for free, regardless of family income. To qualify for this program, schools must have a certain percentage of families who qualify for federal assistance. At the 18 schools not in the CEP program, students can still qualify for free meals based on family income.
The price increase is needed to cover rising food costs and to stay in compliance with federal requirements, district officials said. Breakfast would increase from $1.35 to $2 for breakfast at all grades. Prices would increase from $2.50 to $2.75 for lunch at elementary schools and from $2.75 to $3 for lunch at middle and high schools. District child nutrition director Michelle Coker said breakfast prices had not been increased since 2011. The last increase in lunch prices was in 2016-17, she said.
Coker said the district’s food costs have increased 14%, labor costs are also increasing and reimbursements are decreasing.
Spires said the reality is that families have not paid anything for the last two years for school meals while the Federal Government granted the district a waiver and reimbursed the district for feeding Fayette students.
Therefore, families will not see today’s increase as a $.25 increase but rather a $2.00, $2.75, or $3.00 increase over what they have paid for meals the past two years, she said. For a 12th grader who eats breakfast and lunch at school, the daily cost is now $5 compared to $0 last year.
Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said that the district could raises the prices now, or raise the prices later, “but it will eventually have to be done.”
District officials have said the price increases were comparable to other area districts.