School lunch prices will likely go up in Columbia County next year, but not as much as initially proposed for some pupils.
The school board unanimously agreed to raise the price of an elementary school lunch by 25 cents to $2 next year when it gave tentative approval to the 2008-09 budget Tuesday.
The board previously had considered a proposal to increase the price by 50 cents.
School board members stood by the original plan to increase the cost middle and high school lunches by 25 cents to $2.25 next year.
Superintendent Charles Nagle said the price increase was necessary because of rising food costs, which, according to state estimates, could increase by as much as 22 percent next year.
The smaller increase would keep the school system from maintaining the recommended balance of $1.8 million, which would equal the nutrition program's operational costs for two months, he said. The 25-cent increase for elementary school lunches would put the fund balance at about $1.5 million.
"You serve more meals at the elementary level. So the more meals you serve at less money, the further in the hole you can go," Nagle said.
The $176 million budget is expected to have a shortfall of about $1 million.
However, Nagle said the deficit could be offset by the fund balance and reserves rather than by a millage increase.
He also said revenues, projected at $175 million, were based on a 6 percent growth in the county's property tax digest.
The board is expected to give final approval to the budget June 10.
School officials also discussed the preliminary Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores released by the Georgia Department of Education in May.
Statewide, just 60 percent of eighth-graders passed the math exam, which tested pupils under the more rigorous Georgia Performance Standards for the first time.
In Columbia County, 73 percent of eighth-graders passed the math test, according to preliminary figures.
"We don't feel like the teachers let the students down," Nagle said. "This is a new standard. The state's not backing off from it."
Regina Buccafusco, the board chairwoman, blasted state education officials for not taking more responsibility for the lower test scores.
She said it is hard to determine what went wrong when pupils are given a harder test, using a new curriculum, with a higher passing score requirement all in the same year.
"The state raised the bar a little too high. They should have admitted that," Buccafusco said. "I don't think we should dumb down the curriculum."
However, she said, the state should give a test that properly assesses pupils' abilities.
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