Lunch and breakfast prices in Cortez schools are going up by 50 cents this coming school year.
The Montezuma-Cortez school board approved the rise at its meeting Tuesday night. According to food services director Sandi VanHoutean, increases in meal prices are necessary because of the financial burden imposed by recent minimum wage increases.
“We raised lunch prices in 2017, but that does not bring us up where we need to be,” VanHoutean said. “Because everything goes up.”
She was requesting either a 25-cent or a 50-cent price increase, and recommended the latter option – although it would still not be enough for the department to break even, she said. In 2017, the district increased the costs by a quarter, according to VanHoutean.
The board voted unanimously for the 50-cent increase.
At the elementary level, the new prices will be $1.75 for breakfast and $2.75 for lunch. For secondary students, breakfast will cost $2.25 and lunch will be $3.
At the meeting, VanHoutean said the nutrition services department is run tightly, and has been working to cut expenses.
In her staff report, she noted the manager’s hours at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School had been reduced from eight to seven hours a day, a few part-time positions had either not been filled or eliminated, and kitchens do not call in a substitute when someone is out.
Superintendent Lori Haukeness said that Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 is not the only district facing these issues, and changing requirements and minimum wage increases mean many schools are having to supplement food services with the general fund budget.
“We’re not getting reimbursed enough,” she said.
During the board discussion, director Jack Schuenemeyer asked if the price increase would affect the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
VanHoutean said the change would not impact students receiving free and reduced meals, because those guidelines are set by the federal government based on family income levels.
According to her staff report, during the 2018-19 school year, 66% of RE-1 students were enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, while 34% of students paid. This year, all students who qualify for free or reduced meals will eat for free – previously, this was the case for students in PK-8, but this year that will happen at the high school as well.