Florence School District Five proposes raising lunch prices to cut costs

Some school leaders in Johnsonville say kids aren't eating lunch as much, and it's hurting the food service program.

JOHNSONVILLE, SC (WBTW) – Officials in one Pee Dee School district are looking at ways to cut costs when it comes to food service. One option on the table may include raising the price of school lunches.

Florence School District Five Superintendent Randy Smiley stresses the importance of a successful food service program for the health and well-being of students.

“We have a lot of children here who need the food,” Smiley explained. “They need the enjoyment of eating breakfast and lunch here.”

Now the superintendent is proposing raising the cost of student breakfast by 10 cents, and adding 20 cents to the cost of lunch to keep the program afloat.

“In essence, school food lunch programs are like restaurants,” said Smiley. He said school food service programs are not controlled or funded by the district, but the federal government, who decides what kinds of meals schools can serve and at what price.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs the program in more than 100,000 schools nationwide. Those schools receive cash subsidies for each meal they serve.

“We have had less lunch participation than we have had in the past,” noted the superintendent. Smiley said the push for healthy school meals that started in 2010 has kept kids out of the cafeteria, and put a strain on the district’s meal program.

“The meals are not as appetizing under the new regulations and the restrictions with salt and other things that make the meals not as appealing,” Smiley admitted.

Since food services has its own budget through the USDA, it has to at least break even to stay in business.

“Since the food is under regulation from the federal government, the USDA, to produce these meals in this fashion, then the only other things we can look at is to increase cost for those students who are paid,” explained Smiley.

Many schools across the country are in similar situations a Government Accountability Office study found that between 2010–when the new requirements took effect–and 2013, the number of students eating school lunch dropped from 62 to 58 percent, citing nutrition rules as a key factor.

“You wanna make it as appetizing as possible for them,” Superintendent Smiley shrugged. “That would be very easy to do with a little bit more leeway with the regulations.”

The superintendent also proposes eliminating some vacant part-time positions and reassigning a full-time job outside of food services to cut costs.

Smiley said he plans to officially bring the proposal to the board as soon as next month.