LAND O'LAKES — Start saving your dimes and nickels, Pasco parents.
The School Board is set to increase cafeteria prices on March 9 and again on Aug. 24.
"It's unfortunate," board member Kathryn Starkey said. "Costs are rising, and we've held off increasing the lunch prices for a long time. But it's something we have to do."
Food and nutrition services director Rick Kurtz has met separately with each board member to explain the current financial situation. In a nutshell, expenses are exceeding revenue for the department, which must keep its $32 million budget balanced.
And despite several cost-cutting measures, such as eliminating several menu options and renegotiating contracts, the department has not been able to keep up with rising costs of food and supplies. He figures 10 cents more for breakfast and 20 cents more for lunch will keep the cafeteria budget in the black.
The added charges would be split in two, if the board agrees to the request on Tuesday.
Board chairman Frank Parker said he'd reluctantly back the recommendation.
"I'm going to review the information again," he said. "But basically, from the initial numbers and facts that I saw, we've got to. … We're not making a profit. We're just trying to pay the bills."
Vice chairman Allen Altman praised the food and nutrition staff for doing everything possible to reduce spending before coming to the board for a price hike, which is lower than Kurtz had originally anticipated.
Altman also noted that Pasco is far from the only school district to charge more for meals. Hillsborough, for instance, recently raised its lunch price by 50 cents.
Nationwide, nearly three quarters of school districts increased their prices in the past year, by an average of 24 cents, according to a School Nutrition Association study.
Pasco's prices after both hikes — $2 for an elementary school lunch and $2.50 for a secondary school lunch — will remain in line with other Florida districts and below the cost of an average homemade lunch, Altman added.
"It is a tremendous value," he said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.