SCA lunch sales drop 19 percent
CATAWISSA RR - Administrators at Southern Columbia Area School District are considering options for the school lunch program after it dropped nearly 19 percent in reimbursable sales since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented last year.
The new lunch program is "unsuccessful," said Kathy Holleran, food service director. "We've had more waste than in all the years I've been here."
The 2012-13 school year was the first year for the new guidelines, which require schools participating in the National School Breakfast and Lunch programs to offer students more fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread and pastas for every meal.
Students have not been responding well to the changes and smaller portion sizes, Holleran said.
In the 2011-12 school year, before the guidelines, Southern sold $212,615.29 worth of reimbursable meals. In the 2012-13 school year, with the guidelines, Southern sold $172,721.96, a drop of $39,893.33.
Student participation has also dropped from 139,492 meals served in 2011-12 to 115,922 meals served in 2012-13 after a full year of the new guidelines - a decrease of 23,570 meals.
Before the Act, five food groups (fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and milk) were offered to students, and their meals consisted of three of those five. However, under the new guidelines, students must take a fruit or vegetable as one of those three choices.
The serving size of a fruit or vegetable for the secondary level (grades nine through 12) increased from a half cup to a full cup. For the lower grades (kindergarten through eighth grade), vegetables increased from a half cup to three-quarters of a cup.
The minimum and maximum calorie counts under the new standards are as follows: 550 to 650 calories, grades kindergarten to 5; 600 to 700, grades 6 to 8, and 750 to 850, grades 9 to 12.
In addition to whole grain food choices, other changes included offering only fat-free or low-fat milk choices (included flavored) and limiting the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
Because of the changes, lunch prices for Southern were increased 15 cents for the 2012-13 school year. Lunch prices for students in kindergarten through fourth grade are $2.15 and $2.40 for students in fifth grade through 12th grade. The breakfast price for all students is $1.25.
Prices for students eligible for reduced lunches are 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Some students are eligible for free meals.
Based on meal consumption and lower revenue, federal reimbursement dropped $16,107.27 from $187,832.10 in 2011-12 to $171,724.83 in 2012-13. State reimbursement dropped $7,045.74 from $23,070.88 in 2011-12 to $16,025.14 in 2012-13.
Also, because fewer student sales means less food supplies, operational expenses decreased $22,476.07 from $526,283.41 in 2011-12 to $503,807.34 in 2012-13.
The revenue and sales figures for 2012-13 are not yet finalized because an audit is taking place, business manager Mike Sokoloski said.
The food service is still operating with a profit, so Holleran said she wouldn't recommend opting out of the new guidelines. However, Superintendent Paul Caputo said considering options is not a "dead issue."
"We're going to keep monitoring it. To opt out, we'd have to raise our prices to offset the government funding, and operate more like a restaurant. Whether that's practical, we have yet to discuss that," he said.
It is likely the elementary and middle school student lunch program would be maintained, but it's the high school student lunch program that's up in the air, Caputo said.
"We haven't broken it down deep enough yet," he said.
Holleran's lunch service is considered independently run with no local district money funneled into the program, even though the cafeteria workers are considered district employees.
If Southern opted out of the program, the district would no longer receive subsidies for it, and the lunch program would have to be completely self-sufficient.
The lunch program money is used to pay cafeteria workers' salary and benefits, so the lack of reimbursement would make the budget tighter, Holleran said.
As long as she is "holding the line, the district is fine," Sokoloski said, but, "someone has to pay for it."
Holleran said the Wellness Committee will be surveying students this school year on what meals they would like to see on the menu.
"We want to offer them what they like. We'll try new things while staying in the guidelines," she said.