Cobb’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison will recommend the increases to the school board in April as part of the budget for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. Although the board must approve the increases, the district is already warning families on its website that the increase will happen.
Addison plans to recommend increasing the cost for student lunches, which vary by school level, by 50 cents. That’s a 30-percent hike for elementary students, who now pay $1.65 for lunch.
Staff lunches would go up by 25 cents, to $3. “Guest” meals would go up by 50 cents, to $3.25.
Breakfast prices, which have not increased in 11 years, would go up by 25 cents, to $1.25 for all grade levels under Addison’s proposal.
Cobb schools serve more than 96,000 lunches every school day. About 47,230 of the district’s 107,000 students are enrolled in the free and reduced meal program.
If the board approves the increases, parents could be paying about $90 more a year for student lunches and $45 more for student breakfasts next school year.
The increases are largely the result of the U.S. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that requires public schools to serve healthier — but costlier — foods, including more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lower-sodium items, Addison said.
“Revenues are decreasing sharply due to the Act’s restrictions on the food items that are allowed to be sold as a la carte and due to more children bringing sack lunches from home because they don’t like the ‘healthier’ foods,” he said.
Additionally, Addison said the district’s costs for food staff’s health insurance will increase by $1.7 million in fiscal 2013, from $2.6 million to $4.3 million, and then increase another $1.5 million in each of the next two years. Fiscal 2013 begins this July 1.
Cynthia Downs, the district’s executive director of food and nutritional services, said the current food budget for Cobb County is $21.2 million, most of which comes from paid-meal purchases. The district serves about 96,656 lunches and 19,788 breakfasts daily; plus 2,477 after-school program snacks daily across its 114 schools, she said.
“Anytime that prices increase there is a chance that participation may decrease,” Downs said. “We will continue to communicate to the parents/guardians that even with the price increase, our lunches are a great value for price and nutritional content.”
But if sales drop significantly, the district may lose some food-service workers.
“If the participation drops and remains down, then staffing will have to be re-evaluated,” she said.
Hollydale Elementary parent Gale Gallager-Putnam said she might not like that prices are going up, but with the economy where it is, she may just have to live with it.
“In the overall scheme, it’s still reasonable compared to what food prices are,” she said.
Her daughter, Zoe, is a first-grader at Hollydale Elementary, which is south of Marietta, below the Windy-Mac Connector.
She said they may have to scale back on buying breakfasts, but added she likes the idea of healthier foods.
“It makes me feel better that they are not getting the mystery meats and pizzas,” she said. “I’m more willing to pay the extra.”
Tasha Hurley’s two boys attend Cheatham Hill Elementary, in west Cobb, and she could be looking at an extra $180 in school-lunch costs.
“I’d like to keep the money in my pocket rather than giving it away,” she said. “I would save that much or more by just fixing them lunch at home like I used to do. In the end, the prep time at night is well worth it to me, compared to the convenience. ”
However, Hurley said that if her fourth-grader, Thomas, and first-grader, Tyler, were able to eat healthier foods, the school lunches might be worth the cost.
“If they are going to make them eat salads and fresh veggies, then I don’t mind paying extra for that, as long as the cost is equivalent for what I could do for them at home,” she said.
Two nearby districts already charge more for meals than Cobb does.
Gwinnett County Schools isn’t proposing an increase for next year, but lunches there already start at $2.25. In Cobb, elementary lunches currently cost $1.65.
Fulton Schools are considering a 10-cent increase in meal costs, which would make student lunches still 5 cents more than in Cobb.
Addison, Cobb’s financial officer, pointed out that food funds are not part of the district’s general fund, which pays for teacher salaries and such.
“Food and nutrition services is a separate, self-supporting fund,” Addison said.