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Prices of milk, bread, produce and other grocery items continue to escalate and cause financial worry for Brunswick County Schools’ child nutrition services.
Tina Ward, director of child nutrition services, said last month the department was operating with a deficit of $107.919.49 as of Jan. 1.
To try and balance the budget and retain a three-month operating balance, Ward suggested the board raise student meal prices 20 cents for elementary and high schools and 30 cents for middle schools beginning with the 2008-2009 school year.
Freyja Cahill, executive finance officer, said child nutrition services also has $29,000 worth of debt from the past several years from students who had not yet turned in the proper paperwork to qualify for free or reduced lunch. Ward said when her staff knows a child qualifies but is not on the list, they are fed regardless.
“We can’t not feed those children,” Ward said.
For the past several years, child nutrition services has not produced enough revenue to repay the debt. Raising the meal prices would not only help with the escalating cost of food but also help offset the debt with a projected total increase of $91,908.
If the board voted to raise student meal prices, breakfast would cost $1.20 for all grade levels and lunch would cost $1.80 for elementary and high school students and $2 for lunch at the middle schools. The meal increase would not affect students receiving free or reduced lunch.
Board member Ray Gilbert said he was opposed to raising the meal prices and suggested taking money from the general fund to help offset the cost of rising meal prices.
“We’ve taken money out of the fund balance why not do it to feed the kids?” he said. “Twenty cents may not mean anything for the board, but 20 cents to some struggling parents is a lot of money.”
Gilbert suggested looking at alternatives, specifically asking about an outside vendor to provide all student meals.
Ward said she was not in favor of the idea for several reasons. An outside vendor would put her out of a job, she said, and a vendor’s prices would most likely be higher than the district’s. Pender County uses an outside vendor, and the cost of meals average 15-20 cents higher than Brunswick County Schools.
“I think we can do a better job for you than what an outside vendor can do,” Ward said.
Steve Miley, executive director of operations, said raising the meal prices would help offset the rising cost, but performing annual evaluations of meal prices and food items would keep the department on track.
An evaluation had not been done for the past few years, he said.
“If we had been doing that over the last two years, this would be less of an impact,” Miley said.
Gilbert said he was not in favor of raising meal prices and again said the board should move money from the general fund into child nutrition services.
“There are some families that are struggling right now,” he said. “Let the families keep as much money as they can.”
Board chairwoman Shirley Babson said taking money from the general fund would be taking away three potential teacher salaries.
“Are you going to have children pay 20 cents more for a meal or are you going to do away with an art teacher or a music teacher?” she asked the board. “We just can’t do everything. I’m not sure yet until we decide on the budget.”
Student meal price increases will be put on the action item agenda, and the board will vote at its next meeting whether or not to raise the prices. The board meets at 6:30 p.m. May 6 at the county complex, Bolivia.