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School Lunch Prices, Meal Offerings Remain Stable in Dearborn

As some districts prepare for big lunch cost and offering changes, Dearborn Public Schools will hold steady.

Hot lunch prices for Dearborn Public Schools students will remain the same as they have been for the last five years, which will likely be greeted as good news for parents who choose this option.

Basic lunches–which include meat, bread, vegetables and fruit–will cost elementary students $2.50, middle school students $2.75, and high school students $3.

The stability of the prices comes at a time when everything, from the cost of food to transporting food, is increasing and when many households in the city are under significant financial stress.

Jeff Murphy, who for the past 10 years has overseen the district’s food programs, said the prices are kept in check because the district belongs to a food-purchasing consortium called Macomb-Oakland-RESA Food Cooperative, which serves 90 school districts, according to information from the Oakland Intermediate School District.

“We are able to get better prices because there are so many districts in the co-op,” said Murphy. “It’s allowed us to get great deals on food for the students.”

It has also allowed the district to maintain healthier options for students, which often times are more expensive for the schools, Murphy said.

“We went to all-wheat breads, which are healthier, and we always have items like salads available,” he said.

Murphy added that some districts often have a problem encouraging students to choose healthier foods, which creates trouble for officials seeking to provide more nutritious, higher-quality foods.

“I don’t care how healthy something is, if the kids aren’t eating those items, it’s problematic,” he said. “But the kids seem to like the healthier foods.”

This year, many districts are having to increase their lunch prices to meet requirements put into place by the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which mandates that districts adjust meal prices to a rate commensurate with federal reimbursements and provide healthier selections.

Utica Community Schools their prices across the board. At UCS elementary schools, students will pay $2.35 for lunch, up from $2 last year. At secondary schools, lunches were $2.35 last year. This year, junior high lunches are $2.60 and high school lunches are $2.65.

“This is the first time in four years there has been a price adjustment in the meals. We have worked hard to control costs for our parents, but adjustments are being mandated this year by the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture),” said Tim McAvoy, Utica Community Schools spokesman.

In Wyandotte, the district has pulled back on a planned, federally funded free breakfast program, saying they want to make sure it's sustainable first.

In Dearborn, the UDSA reimburses the district $2.79 for free meals and $2.39 for reduced meals. 

Free, Reduced Numbers May Go Up

Dearborn Schools has seen a significant increase in the number of students that receive a free or reduced-cost lunch at school since the recession took hold of the state in 2008.

Last year, about 12,000 of the 18,500 students who attend Dearborn’s public schools were part of the program, versus about 9,000 in 2007, Murphy said.

“We’ve seen big increases in the past, but I would expect the big increases that occurred when parents lost their jobs are not going to take place this year,” he said. “But I do think there will be a slight increase.”

Murphy said the district would know in October whether free or reduced-cost lunch recipients have increased or decreased. 

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