Some new federal guidelines regarding school lunch prices set to take effect in the next few years could have a big impact on area families.
Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd told the school board Wednesday night that the new guidelines, which adjust the ratio between free and reduced lunch rates and full price lunches, would result in Fulton schools having to raise its full-price lunch rates by 46 cents.
"That is huge," Cowherd said Thursday. "That's pretty devastating for us because that doesn't take into account increasing food and transportation prices (which also are used to calculate lunch rates)."
With that large a jump, he said Fulton needs to start looking at starting the increases sooner rather than later so the impact will not be as drastic.
"We do need to start moving that way," Cowherd said.
One of the obvious concerns regarding higher lunch prices is the effect it could have on families that do not qualify for free and reduced lunch - eligibility for which is based on income.
"The question (at the meeting) was have we seen an increase with that anyway with the economy, and the answer is yes," said Director of Community Relations Kathy Wright.
The number of Fulton students participating in the free and reduced lunch program having increased from 42.5 percent district-wide in 2006 to 48 percent in 2010. The new guidelines, however, would not necessarily lead to more families being able to qualify, although Cowherd acknowledged it could possibly lead to more families not being able to afford school lunches.
"That could be, it depends on how we handle it and how long it is phased in," he said.
North Callaway Superintendent Brian Thomsen said he has seen the legislation, but his district has not done any analysis yet as to how it will impact its school lunch prices.
One factor that could affect the impact in North Callaway is that the district contracts out its lunch services, and lunch prices are written into the contract.
"There's a range they could go (if contractor OPAA wanted to raise prices) but it's limited," Thomsen said, noting OPAA would have to bring any rise in price above that range before the school board.
He said the food services contract will be on the agenda for an upcoming North Callaway School Board meeting, at which time the board could discuss the new guidelines and how they relate to that contract.
"It'll be interesting to see how that affects us," Thomsen said.
Cowherd had originally told the school board the new guidelines would go into effect in the 2012-13 school year, but said Thursday he had found out that phase-in date has been pushed back - although he was unsure how far it had been pushed. He said school administrators would present a more-detailed report on the guidelines for the board's April meeting.
Attempts to contact the New Bloomfield and South Callaway school districts were not successful.