The School Committee raised the school lunch price for next year by 10 cents Wednesday night, but postponed approving the new food service contract for next year after a discussion about the quality of the food served.
The price increase is mandated by the federal government, which requires that the schools charge at least the same amount as the federal government reimburses the schools for free lunches, said Business Manager Edward Cronin.
The lunch price in the elementary schools will go from $2.30 to $2.40 per meal. Middle and high school students will pay $2.65 instead of $2.55.
If the committee refused to raise the lunch prices, the federal government would not reimburse the school district for the free lunches, but would require that the school district provide the free lunches, Cronin said.
The number of free lunches, paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is expected to rise by about 25 percent next year for Swampscott schools. That increase reflects the economic times, Cronin said.
In its fourth year of a five year contract, the schools' food service vendor, Chartwell Division of Compass USA, proposed to cut the district's subsidy of food service by about $10,000 -- from $53,322 to $43,313.
Cronin, who praised Chartwell's performance over the past three years, said the district would have to pay less because of increased efficiencies by Chartwell.
Unhappy with the Food Quality
But the school committee, led by student representative Dan Bromberg, were not so happy with the food service. Bromberg said he has heard frequent complaints from students about the food service. Many criticisms, he said, were juvenile, but others he considered were valid. He complained that the cafeteria served iceberg lettuce, which is less nutritional than other lettuce. He also said vegetarian students have little choice.
The committee members said they had heard similar complaints from students and parents. They postponed the vote on the new contract until they could meet with food service director Maureen Kellett to discuss ways to improve the food service without increasing the costs to students or the district.