School District Reinstates Low-Price Meal Fees

Students in the Orange Unified School District who are eligible for low-priced meals, but who have been eating for free, will have to start paying for the food beginning with the 1998-99 school year.

District trustees voted 6 to 0 this week to reinstate the fees for reduced-price meals, which were dropped in 1992. The district now is one of only five in the county that still subsidizes such meals, nutrition services director Judy Ross said.

The fees are 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, Ross said, still substantially lower than the $1.50 per meal that other students pay. About 2,000 students, or 6% of the 29,000-student district, qualify for the low-priced plan.

Ross said that inflation and other price increases have raised the district's cost for subsidizing the meals. In 1991, for example, the district paid $37,730 to cover the cost of the meals. This year, that subsidy cost $114,875, she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes the free and reduced-price meal program, based on a range of income. Generally, a family of four living on $20,000 per year is considered to be in poverty and is qualified for free meals. The same-size family making $30,000 per year qualifies for the lower-priced plan.

Trustee Kathy Ward said she supported the new plan, but wanted to ensure that children who come to school without the fees can still eat.

"I'm concerned that they still have an environment to learn," she said.

Ross said most schools have a two-day grace period, and she is trying to develop a districtwide standard.

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