School meal prices could rise in Lafayette Parish

Cafeteria rates stagnant since 2008

School meals could increase by 25 cents to help cover the rising costs of food and other expenses to staff school cafeterias.

The proposed increase would raise full-price lunch costs for elementary students from $1.50 to $1.75 and for middle and high school students from $1.75 to $2. Lunch for visiting adults would increase from $3.50 to $3.75. Breakfast prices also would increase by 25 cents to $1.50 for students.

“The current meal price rate structure had not changed since 2008,” Lafayette Parish school system Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry said.

“What has changed is the cost of preparing those meals. Food costs have increased astronomically. We’re at a point now where (a) rate increase is necessary to help fund or cover those costs not to mention (other expenses) — retirement and group health.”

The increases would only apply to those who don’t qualify for federal meal payment assistance.

The increase is included in the proposed food service budget for the upcoming school year. Guidry reviewed proposed budgets for the system’s non-general fund accounts, such as construction projects and food service, during a workshop Tuesday.

The workshop is the first to review proposed spending plans for the upcoming school year.

In its $13.3 million capital improvement fund, some board members questioned spending about $1.6 million on portable buildings.

The costs are associated with relocating buildings, existing leases and new portables.

The district estimates at least $322,550 is needed for the existing lease payments for 29 buildings and another nearly $1 million for the relocation of portables at various school sites.

Guidry said the district plans to reduce its leased buildings to cut costs.

The need for the buildings is related to enrollment and school building capacity.

Board Vice President Tommy Angelle asked several questions about how the portables are used on campuses and if any are used for storage.

“I just want to make sure that all the money we’re spending on portable buildings ­— that we’re housing students,” Angelle said. “If not, we should get rid of them.”

If not used as full-time classrooms, the portable buildings may be used for computer labs or an indoor physical education area on elementary campuses during inclement weather, said Kyle Bordelon, district facilities planning director.

At least five portables will be moved at a cost of $259,000 from Green T. Lindon Elementary School in Youngsville to make room for construction of new classrooms on the overcrowded campus. The project is part of a $30 million bond project the board approved in 2012. The bond project includes major renovations and construction to expand some school sites. About $17 million in work is in the 2014-15 budget, which will complete the bond projects, Bordelon said.

Other proposed spending on repairs and other projects at schools throughout the district totals about $26 million.

The capital improvement budget also includes $1.5 million in computers and other equipment to ensure the district complies with technology requirements mandated by the state to conduct online testing.

Board member Kermit Bouillion questioned the expense given some legislators have asked the governor to opt out of ann online testing consortium ­— the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career — that’s tied to the state’s implementation of the Common Core state standards.

“We had to find $3 million in a mad rush to take care of this mandate from the state government and now they’re talking about doing away with the whole thing,” Bouillion said.

Students take other online tests, such as end-of-course exams, and the district’s equipment was outdated and in need of replacement, said LaShona Dickerson, the district’s technology director.

“I look at it as an investment in our students,” Dickerson said.

Superintendent Pat Cooper told the board that the investment is about $30 million short of a recommendation by technology experts who reviewed the district’s technology needs last year. The pro bono review, led by the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, showed that the district underinvested in technology by $31 million in the past five years.

“(The) $1.5 million is a pittance compared to where we need to get our children,” Cooper said. “Our students are using substandard computers.”

The board’s budget talks continue with a May 20 workshop to discuss the general fund, which includes the district’s instructional spending.

It’s still unclear what kind of impact three new charter schools opening in the district in August will have on the board’s budget, Guidry said.

The charter schools are eligible to receive state and local funding. Guidry said the district could lose about $7 million in per pupil state funding based on preliminary enrollment estimates for the three schools.

The schools are also eligible to receive a share of the district’s tax revenues. Some of those taxes are dedicated, which means the district must use those revenues for specific purposes, so the board may need to offset the dedicated tax revenues that go to the charter schools.