State support for free school meals defers price increase

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By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Following the news that Gov. Charlie Baker allocated $110 million for a free school meal program as part of the FY23 budget, an increase to meal prices at North Attleborough Schools will wait until next academic year.

Superintendent John Antonucci said this was great news and a “win-win for the commonwealth and our students.”

I think anytime we can ensure that kids are having healthy meals is a positive thing,” said Antonucci. “Anytime we can give families financial relief is a positive thing.”

The price increase was approved in June by the School Committee, and applies to student and faculty meals. This is the first increase to meal prices since 2018.

The increase for lunches would be $2.50 at the Early Learning Center, $3 for elementary students, $3.50 for middle school, and $3.75 for high school. Staff lunches would also increase to $4.75. The increase ranges from 50-90 cents.

Breakfasts would be $1.50 at the Early Learning Center, $2 for elementary and middle school students, and $2.50 at the high school. Adult and staff meals would be $2.75. Reduced meal prices—30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch—would not be affected.

Baker’s allocation—a continuation of a federal program enacted when the pandemic began—is a one-time investment, meaning that the price increase would take effect in the 2023-2024 school year. Antonucci said it was premature to say whether another increase would be needed.

When the price increased was outlined, Assistant Superintendent Catherine Blake said that the federal reimbursement paid the schools more than the cost of the meals, allowing for some kitchen-related expenditures. This included upgrading and repairing equipment and buying supplies. It’s unknown if Baker’s allocation will allow for the same surplus.

We’re well-positioned to be self-sustaining,” said Blake of the price increases.