The Hawaii Department of Education announced on Friday that it would be raising school meal prices to comply with a state law.

It’s noteworthy because in November the board of education — which employs the 21,000 or so department workers — voted 8-2 not to raise school meal prices.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said then that he was concerned about the impact one more price hike would have on working families already hit hard by the recession. Board members had voted earlier in the year to raise prices on afterschool programs, summer school and student transportation.

“It was what the board felt would be in the students’ best interests, but unfortunately the department didn’t have a choice,” board spokesman Alex Da Silva told Civil Beat Friday afternoon.

Although administrative rules require the department to seek board approval for increasing school meal prices, he said, the department is also required to follow the law.

“Unfortunately, the law passed by the legislature requires families to pay more for school meals,” he said.

Act 26, passed in 2009, forces the department to charge students at least half the cost of preparing school meals. The last meal price hike occurred in January 2010, when prices for school lunch almost doubled and breakfast almost tripled.

The new increases, which the board rejected and the department is implementing anyway, will go into effect March 1 this year. Prices will go up 5 cents for breakfast and 15 cents for lunch. Prices will stay the same for students who qualify for reduced-price meals.

Per Meal Current Effective March 1 Difference
Breakfast $0.95 $1 $0.05
Lunch $2.20 $2.35 $0.15
Total $3.15 $3.35 $0.20
Per Year Current March 1 Difference
Breakfast $171 $180 $9
Lunch $396 $423 $27
Total $567 $603 $36

The board’s decision was not a political one, Da Silva said.

“It was acting independently, thinking about the impact it would have on families,” he said. “Even though meal prices might seem relatively insignificant, when you add all those things — transportation, A+ and summer school — it has a big impact.”

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