Rae C. Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg. (Photo by Rachel Cassandra)

The price of elementary school lunches in Petersburg will increase by 25 cents this school year, while meals at the middle and high schools will remain free. The Petersburg School District’s food program is an enterprise fund, which means it has to pay for itself. Inflation is increasing the cost of food and putting more pressure on the food program.  

The price of food in schools nearly tripled last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food Service Director Carlee McIntosh Johnson said the district raised the price just enough to cover costs.

“I mean, 25 cents — it’s not a it’s not a lot, but it’s enough,” said McIntosh Johnson.

Some students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Reduced lunches cost just 40 cents. The food service program is then reimbursed by the federal government for the rest of the cost of those meals. According to the reimbursement formula set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the price for an Alaskan school lunch should be just over five dollars — but the district will charge three dollars and seventy five cents. 

At the moment, breakfasts are free to all elementary students. McIntosh Johnson said that’s because the school district wants to make sure kids start their day well fed. 

“So at least we know that if they don’t get anything else, they can start their day off with breakfast,” said McIntosh Johnson. “You know, if a kid is hungry, they’re more likely to act out, they’re more, more likely to be distracted in class. So that has helped start them off.”

Breakfasts and lunches are free at Mitkof Middle School and Petersburg High School, because enough students qualify for a designation called Community Eligibility Provision. It includes families enrolled in food stamps, temporary assistance, as well as a program called Migrant Education. 

The Migrant Education program is for children whose families fish commercially, gather berries, or fish subsistence. Since over 40 percent of the middle and high school students qualify, every meal served is reimbursed by the federal government. However, the number of qualifying elementary age kids isn’t quite high enough, so families with elementary age kids have to pay for lunch.

Johnson McIntosh said she’ll do what she can to keep costs low at the elementary. In the meantime, families can contact her at cjohnson@pcsd.os to find out more about qualifying for programs related to the Community Eligibility Program. Those interested in reduced price or free school lunches can apply online.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that children of hunters would qualify for the Migrant Education Program, which is incorrect.