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02-09-04: Mercer County schol lunches among least costly; prices are rising


School lunch prices in Mercer County are among the lowest in the area, but prices likely will be on the rise next year in one of the most affordable cafeterias in the area.
Coldwater Exempted Village Schools board of education members plan to resume discussion at Tuesday’s regular meeting on a possible price increase for school lunches for next year. As of now, the district’s lunch prices are among the cheapest in the area at $1.30 for elementary school lunches and $1.40 for high school meals. Lunch prices at Coldwater have been increased only a nickel during the past 13 years.
Only Marion Local Schools come close to Coldwater’s rock-bottom prices. Marion Local high school students pay the same $1.40 per plate as in Coldwater, but Marion Local elementary school lunches cost just $1.15.
“A lot of credit for the low prices has to go to the supervisors,” Coldwater Superintendent Rich Seas said. “They’re using good management and good staffing.”
The district also has benefited from striking good deals with food cooperatives, Seas said. The savings to parents adds up over the course of time, he noted.
Parents of two children would spend about $20 per week or about $720 per school year on cafeteria lunches in districts like Wapakoneta, Van Wert and Defiance, where high school lunches cost $2 each. But the same meals at Marion Local and Coldwater schools cost just $14 per week and $500 per year for two students.
A survey compiled by Coldwater cafeteria supervisor Lynn Rinderle shows Coldwater tied with Marion Local for the cheapest high school meals among 20 area schools. Elida schools have the most expensive meals at $2.10 each.
Mercer County schools generally stack up well in providing affordable meals. Beyond the affordable food at Coldwater and Marion Local, St. Henry charges $1.50 for its high school meals. At Parkway and Fort Recovery, meals cost $1.75 each — about the middle of the pack. Celina charges $1.80 per high school meal, the highest in the county.
In Auglaize County, New Bremen students pay $1.90 per plate.
A price increase is necessary in Coldwater, Seas said, where cafeteria revenue no longer covers the costs of providing meals. District administration officials have not decided on a recommended price increase, but Seas noted that even a sizable bump of 25 cents per meal would still keep the district among the most affordable school lunches in the area.
“We are losing money now and we need to address that,” Seas said. “However, no price increase will take effect until next year.”
Rising labor and benefits costs during the past two years have pushed the Coldwater cafeteria operations into the red. The district also saw its costs of feeding students increase this year when it began operating another kitchen at the leased Franklin Elementary School in Montezuma, Seas said.


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