Schools raising lunch rates to keep up with costs

When kids head back to school in the coming weeks, families will pay as much as 15 cents more per day to feed them.

That may not sound like much, but during an entire school year, it adds up.

Center Grove, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools all chose not to increase lunch prices last school year, but that means families will pay more this fall.

Edinburgh raised its prices last year and will raise them again this year.

Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson are the only school districts in the county not raising their prices this year.

The main reason for the price hikes is to catch up with the national average of lunch prices, officials said.

The increases are expected to bring in an extra $125,000 to $250,000 next school year in local school districts. That money will go toward the higher cost of food and operating budgets, Franklin food services director Jill Overton said.

For example, the price-per-pound for beef has been high for the past three years, rising from $3.42 per pound in March 2013 to $4.31 per pound in May, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. Produce costs also have gone up, and now students have to choose fruit as a side dish when eating breakfast at school, Center Grove director of food services Shannon Nesius said.

Dairy products, on the other hand, are leveling off after a surge in price within the past decade. The price of eggs has held steady — $1.92 in March 2013 and $1.96 in May.

School districts have not had to raise their prices for a carton of milk — staying around 40 to 50 cents — during the past two years. Greenwood will reduce the price by 5 cents because a vendor was able to meet the school district’s supply at a lower cost, assistant superintendent Todd Pritchett said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture set a rule in 2010 that forced school districts to keep up with a nationwide average for lunch prices. If school districts’ prices were too low, they would have to increase their lunch price each year until they met that national average. The lunch price average ranges from $2.70 to just shy of $3, officials said. School districts are expected to raise their prices each year until their meal price matches the national average.

School lunch costs typically increase at least every other school year. Edinburgh schools, for example, is increasing its prices for the second year in a row. Center Grove students had a 5-cent increase every year since 2010, except for last year.

Last year, Center Grove, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools all applied for a waiver with the state that allowed them to not raise prices. If the waivers had not been approved, the school districts would have been forced to raise prices again to catch up with the national average.

But Overton wonders if applying for a waiver was the best choice. Franklin applied to give parents a break from paying more for school lunches, but now they’re expected to pay 15 cents more this school year, instead of an increase of 5 or 10 cents each year, she said.

School officials could choose to raise their price to the national average all at once then stop raising the price from year-to-year. But school districts also have the option to raise prices by only 5 or 10 cents per year, and every school district in Johnson County opted for the smaller increase year-by-year.

Clark-Pleasant food services director Kim Combs thinks the meals are still a bargain. She said Clark-Pleasant student lunches still fall between Franklin and Greenwood’s prices.

“Hopefully the parents realize that you can’t go anywhere and get the meal that we’re serving for $2.40,” Combs said.

At a glance

All but two school districts Johnson County are rising their prices for lunch for the 2015-2016 school year. Here’s a look at how much parents will pay starting this fall:

Center Grove

Elementary school: $2.30

Middle and high school: $2.50

Difference: 15-cent increase in elementary schools; 20-cent increase in middle and high school buildings


Grades K-4: $2.35

Grades 5-12: $2.45

Difference: 15-cent increase


Elementary school: $2.60

Middle and high school: $2.70

Difference: 10-cent increase


Elementary school: $2.40

Intermediate, middle and high school: $2.50

Difference: 15-cent increase


Elementary school: $2.25

Middle and high school: $2.45

Difference: None


Elementary and intermediate school: $2.45

Middle school: $2.50

High school: $2.55

Difference: None