Lindbergh school board to discuss hike in lunch prices

Despite loss, district will not lose money; contract provides for guaranteed return


A recommendation to increase lunch prices by 25 cents is among proposals scheduled to be discussed by Lindbergh Board of Education members during a budget workshop this week.

The workshop to discuss the budget for the 2007-2008 school year was scheduled Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

During a Board of Education meeting last week, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Pat Lanane discussed the district’s food-service program for the current school year, noting that new nutritional guidelines adopted by the district last year and rising food costs, among other factors, are impacting the bottom line of the program.

“We’re excited to present to you tonight about the food-service program. We’ve not done this very often in the past. But this year’s been a very different and special year,” said Lanane, who also serves as the district’s chief financial officer. “In fact, I would say the theme for this presentation would be: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ And we’ve had some spectacular improvements. I think this year we’ve also run into probably more negative impacts than I’ve ever seen in the 18 years that I’ve been administrating food service, and any one of these impacts in a normal year would be by itself considered to be very significant …”

The district partners with Chartwells, which operates the food-service program, he said, noting district officials intend the program to be self-sustaining.

“… Our operating principle for food service is that we break even. It’s a self-sustaining program that the direct revenues should at least equal the direct expenditures, and it’s a, you know, a sin if we make a dollar or two on it, although it’s very, very difficult to do that,” Lanane said.

“The question — somewhat of a provocative question because obviously the answer to how much are healthier kids worth is: You can’t put a value on the health of a student, of a child. It’s extremely important.

“Unfortunately, that question is also balanced by the realities of the food-service program where money and revenues and expenditures are very everyday reality, and the real — and some of you, most of you on the board here are in business — we’re talking about the thinnest of margins …,” he added.

Regarding the “best of times,” Lanane cited an increase in participation and the the nutritional guidelines adopted last year that exceed the state’s advanced guidelines for both breakfast and lunch, plus ala-carte items.

“Never have we had these kinds of improvements,” he said, noting the nutritional guidelines adopted last year were the result of recommendations made by a committee.

“… We took very seriously the federal mandate that said we must adopt guidelines for nutrition, and Missouri presents these guidelines at several levels. We looked at — and we were already in our program very close to what was considered the advanced guidelines for Missouri — so we immediately almost, I mean it was a pretty easy decision: ‘Oh, we want to at least attain those advanced guidelines.’

“And then throughout our discussions, we came to the conclusion of we really needed maybe to take that next step. Let’s take this seriously. Let’s ask that question: What is a healthier child worth? And let’s take it seriously,” he said.

“I can tell you that not all districts I don’t believe have taken it quite that seriously, and there are loopholes if you’d like to walk through them on food service, but the committee last year chose not to do that, and I was really proud of their decision …,” Lanane added.

Regarding the worst of times, he enumerated negative im-pacts to the $2 million food-service budget this year, saying, “Any one of these would be a big deal. We had the nutrition policy, the biggest change in nutrition probably in the history of the lunch program — not probably, definitely.”

Lanane also cited an 18-percent increase in the cost of milk.

The food-service program this year sustained a loss of $87,606 as follows:

• Net loss of free/reduced revenue — $14,119.

• Net loss of beverages — $20,371.

• Additional cost for nutritional policy — $37,357.

• Additional cost for government commodities — $7,337.

• Additional cost for increased price of milk — $7,957.

• Additional cost due to minimum-wage increase — $465.

To offset that loss, Lanane recommended the following for the 2007-2008 school year:

• Promote food-service program to parents and the community.

• Enhance marketing plan to emphasize nutrition.

• Maximize capture rate for free/reduced applications.

• Use current focus groups to target menu choices and planning.

• Raise lunch prices by 25 cents to $2.15 for elementary lunches and to $2.30 for secondary lunches.

• Raise ala-carte prices by 6 percent.

• Increase beverage prices to meet profit margin.

• Charge 10 cents for breakfast as a result of the increase in the price of milk. Breakfast had been free.

Those changes, Lanane estimated, would generate a net gain of $10,100 over this year — or roughly $97,000.

Though the food-service program operated at a loss this year, the district will not lose money because of its contract with Chartwells, Lanane said.

“… We’ll not lose money this year. Because of our contract last year, we have a guaranteed return,” he explained. “Actually, it’s the other people here in the room with me that are going to have a bad year with their bosses I suspect in terms of these losses. So we were I think wise in having that kind of a contract. But looking ahead, we have to make this work for both groups here because I think they do a fine job of running our food service and I don’t want to ruin that relationship … I did allow some exceptions against the contract this year. So we will get a net return this year. But going into next year, we need to do some things so that the exceptions — the exceptions would be so great next year they would come back and they’d actually fall against the district and we’d have a net loss as a district on food service.”

At one point, Board Vice President Ken Fey said, “Pat, I applaud all the folks that were on that committee and I know they went the extra mile. What is the extra mile? I mean is Lindbergh just — did we just take too much of a leap over the Missouri standards? Or are we — I mean there’s such a thing about going overboard, too. I mean I know we want the best, but sometimes, you know, you have to be sensible about these things.”

Lanane referenced a comparison of the state’s advanced guidelines to the ones adopted by Lindbergh.

“I don’t think it is excessive. I think it’s better,” he told Fey. “But I really don’t believe it was excessive and it gets back directly to the title of our presentation. You know, what is it that we’re trying to do? … I’m old enough to remember in loco parentis, Latin phraseology that we’re here in the spirit of parents and if we look at that as our responsibility, what is it that we — do we want to present in terms of our lunch program?

“You can go too far in the sense that if you get to the point where participation starts to spiral downward, that’s a very difficult thing to break from a business standpoint. And so I would not want to go that far … in price, which this I think pushes that a little — I mean we’re right there — I don’t want to go beyond this because I don’t want to start that downward spiral because once that happens it can sink a program … It’s a really fine balance and when I talk about the thin margin, it’s a thin margin of profit. It’s a thin margin of new costs and it’s a very thin margin in nutrition as to how you balance these to kind of make it all work …”

He later said, “… I still think we’re at a point where what we have the right thing and if next year we come back and we say: ‘These nutritional costs now doubled again,’ we might have to rethink it. But I sure don’t want to go there. I mean I really think what you all approved last year was really kind of a really brave right thing to type of step … I’m not recommending to back off on it at this point.”