School lunch prices may go up

by Tom Coombe

Higher prices and more selections are probably in store for Ely students when they enter the school lunchroom this year.<BR><BR>After losing nearly $30,000 on its food service operation in 2003-2004 school officials are looking for ways to close the gap.<BR><BR>An increase in lunch prices is likely, food service director Robyn Bertelsen said at Monday’s school board meeting.<BR><BR>Also in the works are proposals to add both an after-school snack service as well as reinstating the breakfast program.<BR><BR>All of the plans will get further scrutiny over the next several weeks, and board action is likely this fall.<BR><BR>A hike in lunch prices, which would be the first in three or four years, would wipe out the deficit, according to figures provided by Bertelsen.<BR><BR>She proposed a 25 percent increase, which would set the elementary lunch price at $1.90 and establish high school rates at $2.<BR><BR>Ely’s current lunch rates of $1.50 and $1.60 are on par with most other area districts, but superintendent Tom Bruels noted that data was over one year old and that other districts may also be raising prices.<BR><BR>A price increase would also equalize Ely’s revenue for all lunch sales. <BR><BR>The district now gets $2.32 per lunch in federal reimbursement for food it provides to students who qualify for free lunch. A 29 cent reimbursement is provided for each paid lunch.<BR><BR>But in addition to price increases, Bertelsen said there are further options that could improve the district’s bottom line as well as provide further selection to students.<BR><BR>An after-school snack program would be run from 2:45 p.m until 3:30 p.m., and it’s estimated that it could produce another $12,000 in revenue for the district.<BR><BR>“It would let kids get access to something to eat after school,” said Bertelsen.<BR><BR>The lunch a la carte line is also set for a price increase as the district will charge higher prices for juice bottles, cookies, and other items in its ‘snack rack.’<BR><BR>“But elementary kids will still be able to get goldfish for a quarter and yogurt and juice for 50 cents,” said Bertelsen.<BR><BR>And with data showing that students who eat breakfast perform better in school, the district may bring back its breakfast program.<BR><BR>Just how it would do so remains uncertain.<BR><BR>The breakfast program was dropped several years ago when as few as three-to-four students per day came to school early to eat.<BR><BR>“The problem before was not enough kids could get here for some sort of line service,” said Bertelsen. “When it got down to where there were so few kids showing up, it was dropped.”<BR><BR>The district is exploring alternatives other than a before-school breakfast in the cafeteria, including a breakfast that is available in the classroom, a breakfast break after the first period, a ‘grab and go’ breakfast that would be packaged for students to pick up, and even breakfast on the school bus.<BR><BR>Bertelsen is likely to be before the board later this fall with recommendations.<BR><BR>Prompting the push for higher prices and more options was a review of district finances, which revealed that once appropriate charges were made to the food service operation, it was running a consistent, $30,000 deficit in recent years.<BR><BR>“The general fund was always subsidizing,” said Bertelsen. “I’m assuming the board would like to see that balance. I’ve got some ideas and I wanted to start your wheels turning.”<BR><BR>In other business Monday, the board:<BR><BR>• Hired Anne (Roderick) Oelke for a .7 full-time equivalent early childhood special education teaching position, at a salary of $20,101, and Susan Lindmeier as a .7 FTE vocal music teacher ($25,139).<BR><BR>• Granted speech therapist Ginny Stage full-time status because of an increase in students needing therapy services. The move calls for a salary increase of $15,516, with 68 percent of that cost eligible for special education reimbursement.<BR><BR>• Filled three building-support positions. Amy (Luoma) Maki was named elementary teacher in charge ($1,800) for days when Bruels is absent from the building, while Laurie Kess was named district testing coordinator ($1,800). Ginger Kittelson is the new school patrol advisor ($500).<BR><BR>• Accepted Alan Rhein’s resignation from a bus driver position and hired Ronald Riikola to replace him at a wage of $14.84 per hour, three-and-a-half hours per day.<BR><BR>• Hired Josh Orcutt as assistant hockey coach ($2,720).<BR><BR>• Awarded Ferrellgas the district contract for propane. The firm provided a bid of 96.9 cents per gallon for the district tanker and 99.9 for the bobtail. Ferrellgas was the lowest of three bidders.<BR><BR>• Scheduled the district truth in taxation hearing for Dec. 1 (6 p.m.), with Dec. 8 for continuation if necessary.<BR><BR>