School board raises lunch prices 10 cents
— The Cecil County Board of Education on Monday night voted to raise lunch prices by 10 cents next school year, the third such increase since 2013.
That increase will bring the cost of lunch to $2.75 for secondary students and $2.60 for elementary students, and translates to a $18 yearly cost increase for students. Breakfast prices, which are currently the second lowest in the state, will remain the same at $1.20 for secondary students and $1.15 for elementary students.
The lunch price increase comes as the Food and Nutrition Department expects to end the year with a deficit. Through April, the department had a deficit of about $70,000 and, while department officials expect that May revenue will help bring that figure down, they still expect to end the year in the red.
The increase is also in line with federal guidelines included in The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
“Our budget is very fluid. It’s dictated by whether our students chose to eat with us every day. Participation is what drives our biggest expenses,” said Kathy Thomas, CCPS food and nutrition supervisor. “If we relate our services to the (education services) side, we are an elective, not a required class, which means we have to woo our students everyday into our serving line.”
Thomas is retiring after 40 years at CCPS and she turned the majority of the presentation over to Scott Heckert who will take over her position starting July 1.
In his presentation, Heckert said the expected deficit is because of food waste, unexpected expenses associated with backfilling cafeteria manager positions and a number of unforeseen repairs to equipment. During the last year, the department also saw a 6 percent decrease in breakfast participation and a slight 1 percent drop
in lunch participation, he added.
But the department also had a few highlights during the last year too, such as adding a number of new online features, including online menus, and the continued success of the second chance breakfast program at Rising Sun Middle School, Heckert said.
The increased food waste and decrease in breakfast participation are related and are primarily due to students in the Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA) program. This state program provides a free breakfast to every student in schools with at least 40 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced meals (FARM), Heckert said.
But this year, at the request of several of the participating schools, food services introduced more protein items to the breakfast — a move that wasn’t very popular with students, Heckert said.
“We had a tremendous amount of waste,” he added.
Going forward, the department hopes to rectify this problem by expanding the menu cycle from two to three weeks and also adding new items to the menu, Heckert said.
Besides food waste, the department also went over budget on salaries due to five different cafeteria managers having to take off for extended periods of time for a variety of reasons. This required the department to promote other people and then backfill those positions, Heckert said.
On top of the unexpected staff changes, the department also had to deal with a number of unplanned repairs to equipment, resulting in extra costs, Heckert said. For next school year, the department plans to put together a plan to repair and replace equipment, some of which is from the 1960s, he added.
But while the department had many budgetary challenges this year, it was also able to introduce a number of new programs, including expanding its online services, Heckert said. In partic- ular, the department continues to see an increase in online payments and expects to hit nearly $1 million in online payments by the end of the school year, he added.
Similarly, the department has also seen an increase in parents filling out online applications for free and reduced meals, a trend Heckert said he hopes will continue.
“An online application can process within 24 hours. A paper application can take up to 10 days,” he said. “So this is a really great convenience for our parents.”
Another convenience for parents is the introduction of online school menus through NutriSlice this school year, Geoffrey Sudzina, assistant in food and nutrition, told the board. The program went live in February and allows parents and students to see monthly school menus as well as look up nutrition facts for particular items, rate the food and even see what items might contain food students are allergic too, he added.
Outside of the new online features, the department has also had success with a new program called Second Chance Breakfast. Implemented at Rising Sun Middle last January, the program allows students to take a break between first and second period to eat breakfast, Sudzina said.
Typically, students’ only chance for breakfast is before the school day begins and adding the second option has resulted in a big jump in breakfast participation at RSMS, Sudzina said. For example, in September 2014, only 34 RSMS students ate breakfast but after the implementation of Second Chance breakfast, the number jumped to 115 in September 2015 and that upward trend has continued, he added.
“We are now approaching almost 200 students eating breakfast every day at Rising Sun Middle,” Sudzina said. “Our breakfast participation at Rising Sun Middle is now almost equal to our lunch participation.”