Bills could raise school meals' prices


POSTED: Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Public school lunch could cost 75 cents more while the price of breakfast could double as early as this fall under measures advancing through the Legislature.




On the Net

        » Senate Bill 160: www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/bills/SB160_.htm

» House Bill 173: www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/bills/HB173_.htm 


The bills, which passed out of House and Senate education committees yesterday, would allow Hawaii's Education Department to charge students up to half of the cost of preparing the meals beginning in the 2009-10 academic year.

The $1.25 school lunch, which rose by 25 cents in July 2007, could increase to about $2, while the price of breakfast could jump to about 70 cents from 35 cents, Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore estimated yesterday.

Currently, lunch prices are automatically adjusted to up to one-third of the Education Department's cost, rounded to the nearest 25 cents, at the start of each two-year budget cycle. But Moore said the formula relies on outdated costs of food, fuel and labor, forcing the Education Department to tap into federal funds to cover meal expenses.

“;In an environment of high price increases, your current prices are not reflective of your current costs,”; he said.

In the 2006-07 school year, for example, the Education Department estimated it got $19.1 million in meal revenue but spent $78.6 million to buy, prepare and distribute the food. It relies on $16.1 million in state general funds and about $43.4 million in federal reimbursements and other financial aid to make up the difference.

About 100,000 isle children buy school lunch, according to the Education Department.

Meanwhile, the reduced-priced breakfast and lunch, each fixed at 20 cents, could reach 30 cents and 40 cents, respectively, under a proposal before the Board of Education. The school board voted last year to schedule public hearings about the plan, which would allow the Education Department to seek the price increases. It is unclear when the hearings will happen.

The Education Department has also sought higher bus fares to offset rising expenses.

The annual bus fare could go up to about $500 from the current $120 through a separate rule change approved last year by the school board. The proposal still needs to go before public hearings, but Moore said the department would not seek such a drastic fee hike even if the rule change was adopted.

The department spent about $46 million last school year to operate 540 buses but collected only about $2.5 million from the 35-cent, one-way fares paid by an estimated 37,000 riders.