Hingham School Committee members have begun looking at the Food Services Enterprise budget, and so far things don’t look promising.
The mandates for buying fresh fruit and vegetables are increasing expenses, overall food prices are continuing to go up, participation in the program is at a standstill, and school lunch prices can only be raised so much annually, members say.
It’s also unlikely that federal subsidies will rise anytime soon, creating a problem for a program that school officials say needs some help.
“We’re exploring all the options before us for this program,” said Dr. Dorothy Galo, Hingham’s superintendent of schools. “It doesn’t have heavy participation at this point, and we’re exploring ways to change menus, and the new [interim director] hopes to meet with students for menu changes that might stimulate further participation.”
School Committee members received an update on the program during their meeting Monday, but nothing has been decided as of yet.
For now, it’s a matter of looking at the options.
“We’re looking at a point-of-sale system, like having a card parents could preload money on and kids could go through the line – is that going to stimulate participation?…Those are the things we’re looking at,” Galo said. “A lot of schools have that system, and would be a convenience for parents. Whether it would stimulate participation or not we don’t know.”
A program such as that would cost upwards of $40,000 a year, Galo said.
Getting children involved in the menu options and perhaps more general marketing might also help to boost enrollment in the school’s lunch program.
The interim director is also looking into options to boost schoolroom lunch sales without raising the price.
Although a change in the program is imminent, conditions aren't dire. The food service budget is not in a deficit, Galo said, “however, if you look at a graph and follow lines out, the increased costs continue to escalate. We can offset some of that by raising the price of lunch, but unless we also get more revenue, you might have in the near future a time where costs outstrip the revenue,” she said.
The 25-cent increase in the school lunch price last year was the first increase in four years. Next school year, a lunch will cost $2.75 at the four elementary schools, $3 at the middle school, and $3.25 at the high school.