A District 65 committee gave initial approval Monday to a 50-cent price hike for school lunches, which would go into effect in the 2023-2024 school year.

Currently, elementary school lunches cost $3, while middle school lunches cost $3.15, so the price increase would be around 16% each. Those numbers represent the full meal cost for students who are not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

If the full board gives the green light next week, it will be the first lunch price increase in seven years. Typically, the district hikes its meal cost every three or four years, according to a memo from administrators to board members, but the pandemic “delayed this action.”

“We take seriously the request to increase food prices, because we know, especially post-pandemic, a lot of our families are struggling,” said Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial officer. “We’ve held back as much as possible, as far as raising prices, but we all know the price of commodities, of food, has gone up drastically. And we have to figure out a way for us to cover some of the increase in expenditures that the district bears.”

Students sort lunch waste at Lincolnwood Elementary School. Credit: District 65 Climate Action Teams photo via Facebook

Considering current rates at which students purchase school lunches, the district said it is projecting a revenue boost of $60,500 per year as a result of the meal price increase.

District 65 also contracts with Evanston Township High School to provide premade lunches for 10 elementary schools and the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, which are not equipped to cook and serve food at the scale required to feed all students. At Monday’s committee meeting, board members approved a nearly 5% increase in that contract for the next two school years, bringing the cost for District 65 to $561,792 for each of those years.

“We’ve weighed this very, very carefully, and the recommendation that we put in before this board reflects our modesty and our attempt to to try to make sure this doesn’t negatively impact our community, which is why we are recommending the modest increase that we are,” Obafemi said.

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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