School lunch prices may rise
District’s meal provider not breaking even
School District 51 nutrition services has requested it be allowed to increase school meal prices for the first time in five years.
Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp told the Board of Education on Monday the increase is necessary for the department to avoid having to be subsidized by the district’s general fund.
Nutrition Services is an enterprise department, meaning its fund is separate from the district’s general fund, and it should be able to sustain its own funding through the revenue it generates through food sales, he said.
“I think my team of managers in place at the schools and myself have done a good job of maximizing our efficiencies, but we are not breaking even,” Sharp said. “We’re at a point where now we’d have to dip into the general fund.”
The department has no cash reserves available, having depleted that fund over the past three years, he said.
Sharp asked the board to allow Nutrition Services to increase prices at the elementary and secondary levels by 50 cents for lunch and 25 cents for breakfast.
The increase would bring the cost of lunch at an elementary school up from $1.50 to $2 and a breakfast from $1 to $1.25.
Depending on what a student chooses to eat, a lunch at the secondary level costs $1.75 to $2.25. With the price increase, that would jump to $2.25 to $2.75.
Sharp said the department’s reserves and profitability declined because food and labor costs, which make up 90 percent of the budget, outpaced the district’s meal prices after the 2003-04 school year.
Forthcoming federal wellness initiatives also will increase costs, because the department must buy healthier and more expensive food, Sharp said.
The district has experienced a decline in participation of the school lunch program at the elementary level, Sharp said, because of the district’s use of satellite schools.
Nine schools in the district had their lunches cooked at other schools and transported over at lunchtime because they didn’t have adequate kitchens, and that has led to a decline in food quality and thus participation, Sharp said.
Sharp said he eliminated that policy, and now all but one satellite school, New Emerson School, cooks its own food.
He said he hopes elementary lunch participation will rebound and grow revenue along with the new food kiosks put in this year at Grand Junction and Central high schools. The kiosks are meant to ease congestion during lunch hours.
If the meal prices increase, Sharp said his department projects a 5 percent decrease in meal program participation. However, the net gain from the price increase will allow Nutrition Services to break even by the end of next school year.
Sharp said District 51 prices also would be even with its peer districts, such as St. Vrain Valley School District in Boulder, which already charges at least $2 for a lunch.