WILMINGTON — For the first time since FY15, school lunch prices are scheduled to increase in the Town of Wilmington, following a unanimous vote by the School Committee on May 13.
According to Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Administration Paul Ruggiero, the state has recommended a marginal increase in prices in several recent years. The district was ultimately always able to avoid an increase, until this year. He noted that this increase is not related to COVID-19.
“This has nothing to do with what we’re going through right now as a nation, really,” Ruggiero said.
In response to a question from committee member David Ragsdale regarding why the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had recommended such an increase, Ruggiero said that the recommendation pertained to operating expenses.
“They (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) always want us to have a certain balance in our revolving account to cover three to four months worth of operating expenses, and we were teetering close to that,” Ruggiero said.
Committee member Jesse Fennelly asked whether families should expect to see increases extended into future years, or whether the increase this year would be sufficient for an extended time period.
Director of Food Services Mary Palen responded that the Department of Education would prefer smaller, incremental increases each year, but she prefers to avoid increases until they prove necessary. State officials want paying students to be charged at or close to the amount reimbursed by the government for those receiving free lunches, according to Palen.
She added that, for the past several years, Wilmington has been “below” that threshold.
“It was a battle for me for years to get that done,” she noted.
She added that much is still unknown regarding regulations for next year, and that unintended costs could arise due to new sanitation or disposability requirements in the wake of COVID-19.
“We’re one of the only collaboratives that’s already done their bids for next year,” she said. “We are anticipating that we’re going to find significant paper costs.”
“Honestly, we’re not going to know until we get into next year,” she concluded.
Ruggiero also thanked Palen for her role in continuing to provide meals to students, even as physical attendance at schools became untenable. He noted that food services has provided 39,000 meals, including breakfast and lunch, to local students since March 30.
“It’s just a tremendous effort, and it’s so welcomed in the community,” Ruggiero said.