The Effingham County Board of Education approved its $80.8 million budget Thursday and also increased meal prices by 15 cents.
The budget includes funding for more teachers and increases in the local teacher supplement. The budget also includes the new Ombudsman program to be used to teach alternative students.
It had previously been recommended that the board increase meal prices by 25 cents.
“We talked about this, and this year we ran into some difficulty,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “We’ve had to transfer $400,000 over to food service, and now we’re going to have to transfer another $200,000.”
Board member Charles Tomberlin asked Shearouse how food service covered the shortfall. Shearouse told him it was covered from borrowing money from the general fund.
“Before Blandford (Elementary school opened) we had a surplus (in the food service account),” Shearouse said.
Finance Director Ron Wilson told the board two kitchens were opened last year. Wilson told the board that where the Marlow Learning Center was not like opening a brand new kitchen but close to the cost.
Tomberlin asked if the money that went into Blandford was the primary reason the account was over budget.
Shearouse said there are many things that go into the shortfall in the food service account. Opening the new school was one, and the reduction in students on free and reduced lunches was another.
Wilson told the board the federal government pays more than the cost of the meals, and the fewer students the system has on the program, the more the system must charge for meals to cover the cost.
“I’ve got a concern because of feedback I’ve been getting,” board member Troy Alford said. “We’ve taken some pretty big steps this year, one being the uniform policy.
“Asking for 25 cents is a tad too much,” Alford said. “Is there anyway we can raise it 10 or 15 cents this year, and come back another 10 cents next year?”
Wilson said he could not tell the board exactly how much 25 cents a meal would bring in.
“It would probably raise you $250,000 to $280,000,” Wilson said.
He said a 15-cent increase would raise the revenue by approximately $170,000.
“Each family at 25 cents, you’re looking at $45 a year,” Tomberlin said.
Wilson said 25 cents would increase the yearly cost for meals by $45 a year for one child to eat every day.
Tomberlin asked if the 25 cents would be making up from the money that has been lost by food service.
“No, it’s not making it up,” Wilson said, “if you consider that we’ve already transferred $400,000 since this time last year, and now we’re out of money again.”
He told the board even though with school out and no food costs the workers are paid 12 months out of the year.
“At minimum you’re going to have to have $175,000 just to pay the staff,” Wilson said. “The 25 cent will allow us to maintain without having to transfer as much money.”
“I just want to make sure that if we do this, that we are making sure that parents understand this free and reduced (lunch),” Tomberlin said. “As far as I’m concerned, $40, $45 a year my big ole 6-foot-5, 235-pound boy, and he can eat for $1.75 a day.”
Alford said he is concerned about the families with multiple children where the cost will add up.
“I’m having a hard time putting this with some of the other things,” Alford said.
“We’re not running a kitchen to make money. We would like for it to pay for itself,” Shearouse said. “We can try it, and if it doesn’t work the board will have to cover it.”
Tomberlin asked if food service could work with a 15-cent increase.
“We can make it work if that’s what the board decides to do. I’m not saying that there won’t be any transfers,” Wilson said. “At the same time if that’s what the board wants to do I’ll be happy. We’ll function as long as we can.”
The board unanimously approved the increase.