SHEFFIELD — A 25-cent increase goes a long way to generating revenue but not enough to cover what it costs to make and serve a school lunch in Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools.
The district’s Board of Education approved an increase Monday night in the cost of school lunches by 25 cents. Lunch will now cost $3 at the middle and high schools, and $2.75 at the elementary schools.
According to district business manager Tim Pelcic, 130,135 lunches were sold last year. If a similar amount is sold this year the district should generate more than $32,000. But the district still operates about $100,000 in the red when it comes to the cost to make and serve a lunch, he said.
“We don’t generate enough revenue in selling these meals to run the kitchen,” Pelcic said. “What we need to do is generate more revenue.”
Pelcic said for the last two years the government also has mandated raising lunch prices.
“The state gives us $2.78 a meal and they don’t like the fact that we sell lunches for less than that,” Pelcic said. “They want us to get our prices up so they are the equivalent of what the state’s giving us in reimbursement.”
The goal is to sell a lunch for twice what it costs to make, Pelcic said, because the profit margin from meal sales helps operate school cafeterias.
“We have this $100,000 shortfall,” Pelcic said. “Raising the price by a quarter will reduce that shortfall, but not eliminate it. The other thing we’re shooting for is to increase participation.”
But Pelcic said getting kids and parents to buy school lunches is more difficult now that federal guidelines have set stringent nutritional standards. Gone are the days of french fries and pizza — districts have entered the era of low-calorie health food.
“We have spent a lot of time this summer revising menus and offering more alternatives,” Pelcic said. “Hopefully we’ll wind up with more kids coming to the cafeteria to eat lunch.”
Superintendent Michael Cook said the district hired a dietitian last year to help them create healthy meal plans. Just this week the district also introduced a new computer app, Nutrislice, which allows parents and students to see what meals kids are getting and what their nutritional values are, all in an effort to get kids excited about healthy eating habits.
Administrators hope such excitement will ultimately translate into greater profits and less budget shortfalls in the cafeteria.