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Trying to stay ahead when prices put budgets in the RED

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Brunswick County Schools Child Nutrition Services is operating with a deficit exceeding $100,000. Officials say it's due to the escalating costs of milk, bread and other grocery items.

Tina Ward, director of child nutrition services, said as of Jan. 1, the department’s estimated losses were $107,919.49, and $1,124 is lost on meals per day.

Ward presented the board of education with a mid-year update at its monthly committee meeting last Tuesday and said milk prices have risen almost 10 cents above the $0.175 original bid.

That equals $70,000 of unanticipated costs for the department. Ward said the district uses more than a million milk cartons each year.

Fruit juices are offered several times a week for students who do not like milk. Ward said this option might help to save unopened cartons from ending up in the trash.

A 3 percent bread and grocery price increase has also caused the department financial challenges. Ward explained to the board fresh fruits and vegetables are costly.

“Fresh produce has really begun to skyrocket,” Ward said.

Adult meal prices also added to the deficit. Adult lunches were originally priced at $2.50. Ward wrote in her mid-year update it costs $3.04 per adult plate, according to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The variance resulted in $11,486.88 in lost revenue. Ward said an a la carte menu has since been created to offset the loss.

Operating in this deficit is not unique to Brunswick County Schools, Ward said. Seventy-two percent of school lunch programs in the state were operating in a deficit by the end of Dec. 2007.

The after-school snack program is a success, Ward said, and is a “budget neutral program.”

“Children seem to enjoy the nutritious snacks being offered in the afternoon at various enrichment programs,” Ward wrote in her update.

Despite its deficit, 13 Brunswick County Schools Cafeterias received Platinum “A” Awards for 2007, Ward said. The award is given for establishments who have maintained a 95 percent or above sanitation rating.

Ward said the department is considering implementing an online payment system. Lunchprepay.com gives parents the option of prepaying for their child’s lunches, check account balances and receive low-balance alerts by e-mail, and monitoring all purchases and spending. If implemented, the system would be offered at no cost to the district or parents.