Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Rising food costs portend lean budgets for school cafeterias

First it was the gas station, then the grocery aisle.

Now higher prices are coming to the lunch line for some public school students in southeastern Michigan. And school officials say higher prices could be on the horizon for students in northwest Ohio too.

Monroe Public School District is reporting food cost increases of up to 16 percent over the last school year.

Milk prices have climbed 25 percent, said Ken Laub, assistant superintendent for business and finance.

Monroe's Board of Education voted last week to increase school lunch prices by 25 cents to $1.75 for elementary students and $2 for secondary school students.

Milk will be increased 20 cents per carton to 50 cents per carton.

Market conditions, including high energy prices, left the district no alternative, Mr. Laub said.

"We've been able to avoid increases for a number of years," he said. "We just can't do it anymore with the double-digit percentage increases in the last year."

Bedford Public School District plans to raise lunch prices 10 cents across the board, Ted Magrum, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said.

Next year, Bedford middle and high school students will pay $2.25 and elementary students will pay $2.10.

"Our meal prices are going up," Mr. Magrum said. "You go to the grocery stores, you're paying more for everything."

Since the 2006-2007 school year, the cost for administering Bedford's food service program has increased about $100,000, he said.

The district is expecting further increases of $17,000 this year, he said.

The increase in lunch prices is expected to generate an additional $25,000, Mr. Magrum said. District officials hope the additional balance will help to avoid another increase for years, he said.

Whiteford Agricultural School District is considering a price increase as well, Superintendent Craig Haugen said.

Increasing costs meant the district subsidized its food services budget with about $43,000 from its general fund last year, he said.

Mr. Haugen worries increasing costs could reduce revenues.

"If you put prices too high, it might hurt the revenue you're already bringing in," he said. "Students might be reluctant to buy lunch."

Last year, Whiteford elementary students paid $2 for lunch and high school students chose between a $2.25 standard and $2.50 premium lunch that includes pizza or a salad bar option.

The district will consider the changes in the coming months.

Many northwest Ohio districts are considering lunch price increases as well, while some are planning to manage escalating supply costs without a bump in prices.

Swanton Local School District is expected to make a determination soon about lunch prices for next school year.

Treasurer Cheryl Swisher speculated rising costs might warrant an increase in milk prices if not the whole lunch.

Swanton managed to stay within its food services budget last year, despite 15 percent food cost increases, she said.

"I don't know if we'll be able to do that next year," she said. Prices are now $2.50 at the high school and middle school and $2 for elementary students.

Springfield Local School District leaders are waiting on 2007-2008 budget figures before setting next school year's lunch prices, Superintendent Kathryn Hott said. However, district leaders hope a price increase can be avoided.

Dave Zambo, the district's food service director, said that while the price of a regular lunch may not increase, students are likely to see prices up by as much as 10 percent on a la carte items such as pizza and salad.

The district charged elementary students $2.25 for lunch last year and secondary school students $2.50, he said. The school board is expected to decide on lunch prices later this month.

In the turbulent economy, districts that recently imposed price increases seem to be faring best.

Genoa Area Local School District spent 7 percent more on food last school year than the year prior, Treasurer Bill Nye said.

Next school year, it will be budgeting for a significant increase in food costs. Food prices, in part, caused the cafeteria's expenses to climb $16,000 last school year, he said.

But the district implemented a 25 cent increase last school year.

Revenues have increased as well since the district instituted a debit system that allows students to make cashless purchases from an account.

The change, which increased revenues about 4 percent, helped the district's food service program remain solvent, Mr. Nye said.

Although Sylvania Schools district has not finalized its 2008-2009 budget, it appears last school year's lunch price increase will be sufficient, spokesman Nancy Crandell said.

Elementary students pay $2.25; junior high students, $2.50, and high school students, $2.50 to $3.50.

Maumee City Schools' food service program is managing as well, despite rising costs, due to past increases, said Mary Bottoni, the district's food service supervisor.

"We're obviously being hit as everybody is at the grocery store," she said, but she added that the program ended its fiscal year with a positive balance.

The district had several increases over the past few years and imposed some labor cuts, she said.

It charges $2.40 to elementary students, $2.90 to middle school students, and $3.25 to $3.50 to high school students.

Local school districts will likely see some relief as federal subsidies for regular, free, and reduced-price lunches are increased this year to reflect price increases, according to officials from the Department of Agriculture.

The department adjusts prices every year to reflect any increases in the Consumer Price Index, spokesman Regan Hopper said.

New reimbursement rates are due to be released this month, she said.

The department last year provided most school districts throughout the continental U.S. with subsidies of 23 cents for regular lunches, $2.07 for reduced-price lunches, and $2.47 for free lunches.

Districts with high poverty rates receive slightly higher reimbursement rates.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

or 419-724-6104.

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