Price hike approved for school lunch program | August 21, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - August 21, 2009

Price hike approved for school lunch program

Food program provider put on notice to keep costs down

by Geoff Gillette

Students in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District will need to bring a little extra change with them to school if they intend to buy their lunch, following action Tuesday by the Board of Education.

At their Aug. 18 meeting, board members approved a 50-cent increase in the cost of school lunches, in an attempt to stem the stream of deficits piling up in the program during the past two years. Figures provided by the district show that in the 2007-08 school year the district lost $63,232, while in 2008-09 the loss climbed to $462,472.

Estimates show that without an increase, the loss for the coming school year would total $427,587.

Board members debated over the effect that a price increase would have and whether it would influence sales. Board President Bill Clarkson maintained that the loss in revenue caused by a drop in sales would negate the benefit of a price increase.

Assistant Superintendent Gary Black disagreed, saying that enrollment growth, coupled with an expectation that families who buy lunches will continue to do so, indicates that the price increase would bring the program to nearly break-even.

Under the proposed resolution, school lunches at the elementary level would rise from $3 to $3.50 and at the middle and high school from $3.50 to $4.

Trustee Greg Marvel opposed the plan, saying that the district should not be fixing its financial miscues by passing them on to the students.

"It pains me to have to force the students and parents of our district to fund a deficit. Half of me wants to support it because I understand the underlying bottom line issue and the other half of me says why should the parents and kids have to suffer because we (the district) did a poor job," he stated.

The board discussed the performance of the current vendor of the lunch program, Chartwells, and said that there would need to be some changes made if the district is to continue its contract with them.

At issue were staffing issues and service concerns that occurred during the last school year. Chartwells district manager Paula Burrington attended both the workshop Friday and Tuesday's board meeting. She assured members that they were addressing the issues and the district would see improvements in the coming year.

Board Member Paul Gardner said that while he does feel there were issues with the provider, some blame has to be assessed at the district level as well.

"We're throwing a lot of stones at Chartwells and they deserve a lot of stones. But we haven't exactly provided them an atmosphere for them to succeed," Gardner offered. Some areas he said could be improved included getting electronic payment options set up at all schools and revisiting the setup for lunch at the high schools. He said currently there are too many students in the lunch area at one time for the vendor to reasonably serve.

Trustee Rachel Hurd agreed. "I think the discussion we had on Friday clearly outlined that what Chartwells bid on wasn't what they thought they were getting into," she said. "I think for a full meal lunch that's a good deal."

Hurd did say that she could not support running the program at a deficit and that the expectation is that if the increase is approved the program should hit break even.

"They're on notice," she stated. "They know if they don't perform we can pull out."

Board members requested quarterly reports on how the program is performing. Superintendent Steve Enoch readily agreed and said that by January he will have completed an analysis of how the program is doing and would be presenting a recommendation regarding the district's continued use of Chartwells.