Payson Student Meal Prices Increase

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The Payson Unified School District will comply with federal rules and increase student meal prices 10 cents next year and more each year after that until prices match what the federal government pays to reimburse the district for students who qualify for free lunches.

The board approved the increases at its board meeting last week. The board also approved the hiring of a new finance director and honored several teachers and departing finance director Bobette Sylvester.

The current price for paid elementary school lunches is $2 and $2.25 for middle and high school meals.

Next year, elementary paid lunches will increase to $2.10 with middle and high school meals at $2.35. It should take about six years for the district’s paid meals to match how much the government pays for low-income students in its free and reduced lunch program. About half of the students in the district qualify for those federally subsidized lunches. Lunches will top out at $2.60 and increase with increased costs.

Sylvester, appearing at her last board meeting after 16 years of service, said the federal government does not want to subsidize paid meals anymore, so it is asking school districts to raise prices.

Bill Helmintoller, who works for Sodexo Education, a private firm that contracts to provide lunches in Payson, said in a memo to school board members that paid meal prices need to increase every year until they are the same as the free reimbursement rate.

Currently, the federal program pays the district $2.72 for each student who qualifies for a free lunch. The federal government also reimburses the district 26 cents for paid meals.

Helmintoller said paid lunch prices need to increase until they are $2.60, which should take six years on the elementary level and four years on the middle and high school level.

In other school news, Superintendent Casey O’Brien introduced the district’s new business manager, Kathleen Manning.

In May, Assistant Superintendent Sylvester resigned to take a job in the financial offices of the 69,000-student Mesa Unified School District. Manning will make $78,500, $11,500 less than Sylvester, who worked at the district for 16 years.

Manning brings with her 24 years of experience in school finance. She has worked for the Washington Elementary School District, Glendale Unified School District and most recently the Cave Creek Unified School District.

“I am very excited to be here,” Manning said.

While Manning is just starting with the district, four retiring employee were honored by the school board for their years of service.

Teacher Carmelita Locke is leaving with 30 years of combined service, teacher Debbie Mercer with 19 years, bus driver Jacque Daily with 12 years and school resource officer David Vaughn with 17 years.

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