Loudon County Board of Education members Thursday reluctantly approved raising lunch prices 15 cents for the coming school year in an effort to meet requirements given by the Tennessee Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Members voted 6-1 in favor, with school board member Leroy Tate opposing. School board members Bobby Johnson Jr., William Jenkins and Kenny Ridings were absent. BOE Vice Chairman Craig Simon motioned, and school board member Ric Best seconded.

“Well, I really think that the response that we got from both the state and the state commission that controls the lunch programs, both of them made a very obvious statement that we’d be penalized by having funds withheld from our project as well as the BEP (Basic Education Program), and that put (us) in a position where we really had no choice,” Best said. “We can just hope that the free and reduced program can touch as many of our students as possible.”
Director of Schools Jason Vance called the increase “one of those necessary evils” because of the state’s warning to withhold funds. Initially the state had given the county school system a three-year plan, increasing prices by 10 cents annually. Vance said he wished to move forward with the 15 cents to prevent a large increase next year should the board be required to up prices again.
“Maybe if we go 15 cents this year, and we have to up next year, maybe it’s not as high, maybe it’s just 5 cents instead of the 10-cent raise,” Vance said. “Even with that, we feel like we’re certainly within competitive pricing in regards to surrounding counties and obviously have a price for meal prices that are cheaper than Lenoir City, which is just right down the road.”
Vance said the county’s prices were “significantly less” than Lenoir City Schools.
Lenoir City Board of Education approved a 10-cent raise to its lunch prices last month, increasing prices to $2.45 for elementary school, $2.70 for middle school and $2.85 for high school.
With a 15-cent hike, county lunch prices will be $2 for elementary school and $2.25 for middle and high schools.
“We really don’t have no choice,” Philip Moffett, school board member, said. “I mean, the funding, they’ve threatened to cut back on our money. We really don’t have no choice this time. Voted against it for the last three years, like Jeremy (Buckles, school board member) said. We fought against it and then fund balance is going down, expenses are going up. It’s been eight years since we voted an increase. I can support it this time, but I don’t know about the future. Hold the lines as tight as we can.”
The last time Loudon County Schools initiated a meal price increase was in 2008.
“We cannot continue to operate at the way that we are,” Buckles said during the meeting. “It’s been seven years since we’ve raised meal prices at all. Like I said, I don’t like it, but as it’s been said here it’s kind of a necessary evil. I think it is necessary and justified at this point ...”
In other matters, BOE members:
Agreed to table indefinitely a lease agreement between Central United Methodist Church and Loudon County Schools for usage of the road beside Eaton and North Middle schools. Parents currently use the access road. Paving of the road is estimated at $32,250, and paving at Eaton and North Middle schools is $216,100. Board members are looking to utilize funds to potentially place more parking on school campus.
Voted in favor of school fees for next year.
Approved a differentiated pay plan similar to last year.