Prince George's County school officials increased meal prices for the 1990-91 school year last week to the consternation of many students, parents and administrators.
"Even the principals are complaining about the food, the quality and lack of variety in the menu," said school board member Catherine M. Burch, just before the board voted to approve the increase.
"The prices are too high for students to pay every day and the food is not really that good," said Erica Davis, an eighth-grader at Francis Scott Key Middle School in District Heights. "Every year they take away something and raise the prices. They used to include dessert and now you have to pay extra."
For the 1990-91 school year, lunch prices rose to $1.40 from $1.35 in middle and high schools. Elementary students will pay $1.35, up 10 cents. Breakfast will cost all students 90 cents. Reduced-price lunches and breakfasts for low-income students will still be offered.
Considering that the food service program is one of the few in the area that is self-supporting, even paying for its own food and utilities, it does pretty well, said program director C. Anthony DiMuzio.
The school system raises meal prices an average of a nickel a year. According to DiMuzio, the higher prices, which this year will add $330,000 to the service's coffers, help offset a continuing reduction in federal support.
This year the federal commodity support from the Department of Agriculture will decrease because its own reserve of cheese and dried goods has become low. Those items DiMuzio cannot obtain from the federal government will have to be bought on the open market at non-discount prices.
The school system served 9.5 million meals last year, including nearly 20,000 free and reduced-price meals for low-income students. The system received $7.1 million in federal reimbursements.
"When people start comparing the lunch price of our county against neighboring counties, they just don't understand that I receive no county assistance," said DiMuzio. "If I got $750,000 a year like some of our neighboring counties, I could decrease the price of lunch by 15 percent."
According to DiMuzio, 69 percent of the students attending school buy lunch on a daily basis. The national average is 65 percent.
DiMuzio said complaints about the quality of the food will be a thing of the past as new recipes, including taco burgers and corn dogs, are introduced this year.