NEW ULM - The District 88 Board of Education on Thursday approved a 20-cent increase in lunch prices for next year.
Elementary lunch prices will go up to $2.20, and secondary lunch prices to $2.35.
The prices still compare favorably to those in several area schools, officials said.
Part of the increase, 10 cents, is federally mandated, to meet federal reimbursement rules.
The federal government reimburses the schools for free lunches offered to lower income students at a rate of $2.92. Reduced-price lunches are reimbursed at a rate of $2.52, and regular-price lunches at a rate of 33 cents.
While lunch prices will go up, the schools will offer a free breakfast, under a proposal presented by Food Service Director Jackie LeMay. The breakfast will be funded in part by the lunch price hike, and LeMay explained the mechanics of how this will be done.
LeMay also reported that lunch counts dropped by 25,000 this year, primarily because high-school juniors and seniors took advantage of open lunch. This option, a result of switching to a six-period day, allows juniors and seniors to leave campus over the lunch period and eat elsewhere.
Weather was another factor in the drop in participation in the lunch program, said LeMay. There were three snow days this year, which were not (and did not have to be) made up.
The new U.S. Department of Agriculture menu guidelines, while much publicized, were "not a real huge factor" in the drop in participation, said LeMay.
"The hype was bigger than the actual problem," LeMay said.
The USDA menu guidelines were intended to make school lunches healthier, by boosting the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The guidelines did not dramatically affect participation, but they did have some impact on program costs.
The board approved a $162,032 contract to replace lockers at the High School this summer.
The lowest bid, which was accepted, came from Haldeman Homme and includes removal of the original lockers and installation of new ones.
The board approved an early retirement incentive for non-teaching staff.
The requirements for participation are:
The employee has 20 years of service with District 88 as of June 30, 2013.
The employee gives notice no later than June 10, 2013 of their intent to retire on or before July 1, 2013.
The employee actually retires on or before July 1, 2013.
For each employee meeting the requirements, the school district will pay 12 months of the contribution to single health insurance coverage at the same rate as an active employee of that group. The contribution will begin in the month following the last day of employment.
The board heard ideas about, but did not yet act on, a "fair-share system" for extra-curricular fees.
Under this system, schools in co-op agreements for sports hosted by District 88 are billed for their participation in the sports at cost. In contrast, District 88 subsidizes fees for its own students (and they are less than the cost).
Activities Director Chad Eischens noted that athletic officials are considering different options for the fair-share system.
One possibility is to continue the arrangement as it stands at present.
Another option is to bill co-op schools a set fee above the District 88 student rate, for example, $200 or $300 more per student. (The number is undetermined.)
Eischens pointed out that right now, a lot of staff time is being spent on calculating the actual cost of offering a sport. A set additional fee would alleviate this issue.
Students from co-op schools strengthen the programs, Eischens also pointed out, among other, varied considerations.
The activity committee will further discuss this matter and will make a recommendation on it to the board.
The board will look at the issue again, likely at it next meeting.