By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Lunch prices will rise at Muskogee elementary schools and the Early Childhood Center this school year.
The Muskogee Board of Education approved the price increase Tuesday after hearing how federal regulations prompted the increase. Starting this school year, lunch prices at the Early Childhood Center rise from $1.60 to $1.90; prices at the 10 elementary schools rise from $1.90 to $2. Students qualifying for free and reduced lunches will continue to have free and reduced lunches, said Jaime Speligene, Muskogee Public Schools child nutrition director.
Speligene said the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires schools to charge full-price meal prices at the same rate they’re reimbursed for the free meals. Districts make incremental increases until they match the reimbursement rate.
The board also authorized elimination of non-priced breakfasts for all MPS students through eighth grade and elimination of non-priced lunches for all students at Whittier, Irving and Cherokee elementary schools.
Previously, all students in kindergarten through eighth grade could receive free breakfasts. Also, all students at Whittier, Irving and Cherokee received free lunches.
Starting this school year, students who don’t qualify for free and reduced lunches will have to pay for their breakfasts and lunches.
Speligene said she did not like eliminating the non-priced programs. However, the Child Nutrition Department has had to cut $400,000 to $500,000 in funds this year.
Eliminating the non-priced breakfast program could save $70,000, and eliminating the non-priced lunch programs at the three schools could save $25,000 to $30,000, she said.
Muskogee Public Schools has about 80 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches, Speligene said. Whittier, Cherokee and Irving schools have more than 90 percent, she said.
Two board meeting visitors said they were concerned about the non-priced meal proposals.
The Rev. Marlon Coleman of Antioch Baptist Church said “hungry bellies result in bad study habits.”
He said his church offers a Wednesday night dinner, “and for many kids, that is their first meal of the day.”
Coleman told the board to look for a solution, “even if there could be some way to provide a community effort.”
After the meeting, Coleman said parents need to know how their kids could qualify for free and reduced lunches.
“I don’t want to see the kids penalized,” he said. “It would be creative to see if there are local funds available. We should be pursuing them.”
Doug Walton said Speligene is doing an excellent job dealing with the new federal regulations.
“It’s becoming harder to meet the needs without the addition of local funds,” Walton said.
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or email@example.com.