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Pasco County schools will raise prices on some meals

The stuffed-crust pizza, chef salad and pasta with meatballs will stay the same. But the chicken tenders, veggie burgers and the nachos supreme are going to cost more.

Struggling with rising food costs, the Pasco County School District has unveiled a two-tiered lunch menu for middle and high school students this year. Some entrees will stay at $2.30. Others that require more expensive ingredients or more staff time to produce will rise to $3.

Breakfast and lunch prices for elementary students will remain the same as last school year, and there won't be any changes for those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

But adult lunches, which do not receive any government funding, will increase from $2.90 to $3.25.

"We have no choice," said Rick Kurtz, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Pasco County school district. "In my 22 years as a director, this from a financial prospective, is our most challenging year ever."

The district has cut costs and is exploring ways to raise revenue, but it's possible meal prices could go up across the board in the middle of the school year, Kurtz said.

Current vendor prices are only locked in for a six-month period. If food prices rise as expected, he said, the increase will have to be passed on to consumers.

The food services division has been looking in every corner of its $30-million budget for ways to save money.

As part of the cost-cutting efforts, Kurtz said, three district level jobs were eliminated through attrition and 17 cafeteria workers have had their hours cut, making them ineligible for the district health and benefit package.

"We cut their hours but they were still able to keep their jobs," Kurtz said. "That was a hard decision to make because some of those employees really depend on those benefits."

The district also plans to save money by reducing the number of days that fresh fruit is offered, offering predominantly low-fat milk, opting for cheaper recycled napkins and buying plastic cutlery from China.

Officials are also negotiating for better food and shipping costs with current vendors and purchasing more locally grown produce.

School districts everywhere are facing the same challenges.

According to a survey by the School Nutrition Association, 75 percent of school districts across the country plan on increasing their meal prices for 2008-09. At the same time, 62 percent plan to reduce their staff.

"As of May and June, 170 school districts raised their lunch prices with the average increase of 26 cents per meal, said Erik Peterson, a spokesperson for the Food and Nutrition Association. "That was compared to 70 (districts) from the year before."

And government funding isn't rising to meet the skyrocketing food costs.

"The reimbursement rate went up 4.2 percent and our costs have gone up 10 percent," Kurtz said. "This forces you to really look at every single thing you do."

Pasco buys much of its food through a 39-county bulk purchasing group to get the best price on everything from pizza to chicken nuggets.

Officials are also brainstorming ways to boost sales, which in turn would bring in more funding from the government.

Making breakfast more convenient by offering it in the classroom or having carts located strategically throughout the campus is one idea.

Appealing to the brown baggers by shortening the lunch lines, especially for a la carte items, is another.

"We want them to know they can buy the apple slices, the fresh fruit sides and milk to supplement what they are bringing from home," Kurtz said. "Anything that we do to build efficiency helps across the board. Students that don't like to wait in line will see the lines going faster so maybe we can see an increase in participation that way."

Long-term projects include the possibility of turning sales of some snack items over to high school student organizations in exchange for funds.

"That would save us the labor cost of a cashier and help that group to earn commission on their sales," Kurtz said.

Another idea is to work with high school agriculture programs to grow produce on site.

"The ultimate goal would be to work together," Kurtz said. "The money they earn from growing and selling us fruits and vegetables could fund another teacher for the ag program."

>>meal prices

Breakfast

• Regular: elementary, $1.15; secondary, $1.30

• Reduced-price: elementary, 30 cents

• Adult: $1.50

Lunch

• Regular: elementary, $1.80; secondary, $2.30 or $3

• Reduced-price: 40 cents

• Adult: $3.25

For information on the free or reduced-price meal application or the food program, call Nicole Westmoreland at (813) 794-2438, (727) 774-2438 or (352) 524-3258.

To pay for lunch online, go to www.mylunchmoney.com.

Pasco County schools will raise prices on some meals 07/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 1:57pm]
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