Students attending Olentangy schools will be paying more for their lunches in the next school year.

The Board of Education recently approved a 15-cent increase for lunches at all grade levels. That means elementary lunches will now cost $2.40; middle school lunches $2.65; and high school lunches $2.90.

Bethany Lenko, supervisor of food service, said the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required school districts that participated in the National School Lunch program to follow a provision called Equity in School Lunch Pricing.

“This basically requires school districts to make incremental increases in our weighted average lunch price until that average either equals to, or exceeds the current federal reimbursement rate for a free lunch,” Lenko said. “What makes this provision tricky is reimbursement each year increases. So we’re always trying to catch a moving target.”

For the 2015-16 school year, the district received $3.07 for every free meal they served. For every paid meal, it received 29 cents. That is a difference of $2.78. Last October, it was determined the weighted average was $2.46. Since the weighted average is lower than the difference, the district is not in compliance, and is required to raise the prices, Lenko said.

“To determine how much we needed to increase our lunch prices by, the United States Department of Agriculture puts out a nice calculator,” she said. “Using the calculator, our un-rounded adjusted average paid lunch price was $2.59. Adjusting that by a factor of 4.97 percent, that puts us at a $2.70 average.”

She said the USDA gives some latitude in price setting, recommending at least a 10-cent raise.

However, Lenko recommended a 15-cent, across-the-board increase to the board.

“From a revenue standpoint, that brings in an additional $200,000 per year to the food service account,” she said. “That would cover some departmental expenses, and revenue losses from calamity days and testing dates.”

Even with the rate increase, Olentangy will still be reasonable with its prices in comparison to other local school districts, Lenko said.

By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.