School lunches will cost more

Parents will pay more for their children’s school lunches this fall in many Snohomish County districts.

The county mirrors a national trend with rising food, labor and transportation costs blamed for the increases.

Arlington, Granite Falls, Lakewood, Marysville, Snohomish and Stanwood-Camano school districts have raised lunch prices for next fall.

The price hike – about 25 cents per lunch – won’t affect students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches based on family income.

While typical annual food inflation is about 3 percent, dairy prices in June were up 27 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. Meat and cheese were up 11 percent, and poultry 9 percent.

“Until this year, it didn’t seem like prices raised that much and then, wham,” said Leanna Davis, food service supervisor for the Lakewood School District, which serves about 200,000 lunches a year.

“Even if we raise it by 25 cents, we pretty much will be squeaking by,” she added.

For a student buying lunch every day of the 180-day school year, a 25-cent-a-day boost would translate into a yearly increase of $45, making the annual bill in Arlington, Granite Falls, Lakewood and Marysville $360 for elementary school students and $405 for secondary school students.

In Arlington, Granite Falls, Lakewood and Marysville, the cost of an elementary school lunch will rise from $1.75 to $2.

The cost will increase from $2 to $2.25 for middle and high school students in those districts.

Snohomish will increase lunch costs from $1.85 to $2 for elementary students but secondary students will still pay $2.10.

Stanwood’s elementary rates will increase from $2 to $2.15 and its secondary from $2.25 to $2.40.

Labor prices have crept up, mostly because of health care costs.

“The major reason for our costs going up is the cost of benefits,” said Eldon Allen, an assistant superintendent in the Stanwood district.

“We resisted it as long as we could,” said Joel Thaut, superintendent of the Granite Falls School District. “One of the requirements for our food service program is we break even. We just couldn’t do it anymore.”

School districts are often reluctant to raise prices.

In the Arlington district, the 25-cent increase is the first jump in five years.

Rising milk prices are a big concern in Arlington and elsewhere, said Deb Borgens, finance director for the Arlington School District.

“We absorbed our milk price into the price of lunches,” Borgens said.

Darrington, a small rural district with about 600 students, loses money with its food service program, but will keep its prices among the lowest in the county for at least another year. It will still cost elementary school students $1.50 for lunch while secondary students will continue to pay $1.75.

With a small food service program, the district must be careful not to lose students because of a price increase, said Randy Swenson, the district’s superintendent.

Swenson points to research showing students perform better academically when they get a good meal.

“Our philosophy has been we really want to make sure kids get a good meal,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.

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