Food costs impacting school budgets

April 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
We all know how rising fuel prices affect our budget. Now think about it in the context of feeding hundreds of school kids on a tight budget. Bay Area school districts say everything from milk, to meat, to fresh produce is costing them more. However, the full impact of these costs won't even hit until this summer.

Many school districts have seen the price of milk go up 38 percent this year alone. Districts absorb any price hike, even when they have a contract with food suppliers.

"They all have what's called an Act of God Clause so if something happens -- weather, price of oil, transportation -- they invoke the Act of God Clause and the price will be raised," says Loretta Gildner with the California School Nutritional Association.

School districts are bracing themselves for what may be dramatic increases from vendors. In June and July, most districts bid out contracts.

"They have told us that it's very likely that prices will be going up and already our program operates at a deficit," says Gentle Blythe with the San Francisco Unified School District.

San Francisco Unified's food service department operates on a $1.5 million yearly deficit. Cafeteria salaries, benefits and other expenses are higher in San Francisco. Under the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program, the federal reimbursement per child is $2.47. The state of California dishes out roughly 22 cents.

These price hikes could not have come at a worse time for California as schools face proposed budget cuts. Some districts may have to change their menus.

Gildner, who works for the San Bruno Park School District, says she's become a savvy buyer.

"We'll buy in bulk, again bid pricing, more efficient ways of doing business, anything that I can think of to try and make sure that I am serving nutritious meals to those children," says Gildner.

The San Mateo-Foster City School District wants parents to pay more for the school lunches.

"We are currently at two dollars for our K through 5th graders and we're suggesting that it increase to 50 cents so it would be $2.50 for the paying child," says Case Ellison with the San Mateo-Foster City School District.

The school board will vote on the proposal. Other districts may be forced to follow them.


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