CONYERS -- Some Rockdale County students are paying a little more for meals this school year.
Rockdale County Public School's nutrition department was forced by a mandate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase meal prices for the current school year.
Meal prices have increased by 15 cents at the elementary school level this year, from $1.75 to $1.90. Last school year, the mandate also forced RCPS to increase its meal prices, so the middle school prices were upped by 15 cents to align them with the high school level.
No other level is expected to increase this school year, but the mandate could require more increases in the future.
The mandate, called Equity in School Lunch Pricing, requires that systems increase rates to be more in line with the federal reimbursement for free and reduced lunches, which is $2.46.
This year's increase, which was approved by the Rockdale County Board of Education earlier this year, could bring in about $42,000 in additional revenue to the school nutrition fund, which is self-supporting and not supported through the RCPS general fund.
Unfortunately, increased prices could bring participation down, Peggy Lawrence, director of School Food Services at RCPS, has said.
Additionally, the department is seeing cuts from the state and increases in food prices and health insurance premiums.
This school year, the department plans to operate on a more than $9.6 million budget, about $400,000 more than last school year's budget.
In a report to the school board earlier this year, Lawrence said increased health insurance premiums added $225,000 to expenses. Additionally, purchased food costs are expected to increase by 9 percent compared to last school year due to rising food prices and the changes in the meal pattern requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
She reported that lunch participation by students has reached an all-time high, increasing nearly 1 percent to 81.6 percent, as of the end of the last school year. Breakfast participation is up about 3 percent to more than 40 percent.
Also, participation in the free and reduced price meals program increased 1 percent to 64 percent, and state funds have continued to decrease, Lawrence reported to the board.
Over the summer, the school food services department renovated the serving line at Rockdale Career Academy to improve serving times. At Flat Shoals Elementary School, a serving line was added and another was renovated to improve service time by 30 minutes and allow both lines to provide all lunch choices.