The Effingham County Board of Education is expected to vote on a proposed meal price increase at its next meeting on June 21.
Assistant Superintendent Meredith Arnsdorff said meal prices have been increased by only 10 cents in the last 10 years. The suggested increase for breakfast next year is 25 cents.
“That amount would enable us hopefully to pull up to a break even point, and anything less than that we wouldn’t even come to that,” she said. “Hopefully in the next school year, we would hopefully break even and not go further in the hole.”
Currently meal prices are set at $1.20 for breakfast at all grade levels. The elementary lunch price is $1.20 and the middle and high school lunch price is $1.35. The increase would raise breakfast prices to $1.45, elementary lunch to $1.60 and middle and high school lunch to $1.85.
“We mentioned in the meeting last week twice within the last year we have had to borrow approximately $200,000 at the time, around $400,000 give or take, to keep ourselves afloat in that program,” Arnsdorff said. “We’ve had to borrow from the general fund, which we can’t keep doing, or we’ll have ourselves in the same shape with our general fund.”
She said the first time the school system did that was for the opening of Blandford Elementary.
“There are some things that come with the new school itself, but then when you begin furnishing a kitchen then those things have to come from the food service account,” Arnsdorff said. “In addition to that, we also had to partially refurbish and refurnish the Marlow Learning Center. Some things were there, but some things were not, because they had been transferred to the new Marlow Elementary School.”
Arnsdorff said that even though opening the schools played a part in the losses for the 2006-2007 year, the school openings were only a small portion of the reason food services is losing money.
“Primarily the fact that labor, food prices, shipping, delivery all of those things have gone up significantly in the last few years, but we have not gone up in our prices,” she said.
In the 2005-06 school year there were 1,120,189 paying meals served. Food services lost 25 cents per meal. The total food services losses for that school year was $275,830. As of February of this year food services had served 851,858 meals at a loss of 43 cents per meal with a total loss of $370,333.
“That includes guests, teachers, students but a la carte, extra side, extra milk is not included in that number,” Finance Director Ron Wilson said. “The federal government pays us $2.40 per plate. We don’t charge near that much. Because less students are on federal assistance programs, we have to make up that money through charging more for paying plates.”
Arnsdorff said something has to be done because the program cannot go without funding.
“Even if they did approve the 25 cent per meal increase, you can still feed even the highest charged student, which is the high school student, for less than $10 a week,” she said.
“And get a good balanced diet,” Wilson said.
Wilson said since the schools are still in the budget year for 2007 the numbers presented to the board are incomplete for the year.
“Revenue stops mid May, but those cafeteria workers get paid so much a year, like a teacher,” he said. “You don’t give it all to them in the months they work. You hold a little bit back and give it to them in the months they don’t work so they get a check every month. We have not yet finished paying for all the school food service salaries even today. Our revenues have been stopped for three weeks now, but we are still paying salaries.”
Wilson said the price increase was determined to help make up the shortfall on an annual basis.