School lunch price up

Posted: Wednesday, February 09, 2000

Next school year, school lunches will cost a nickel more.

The price increase, approved unanimously at Monday's meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District school board, is the first in what is likely to be a cascade of other fee increases to compensate for budget cuts.

A proposal to raise fees for using school auditoriums was tabled.

"It's been a rough couple of weeks," said school board president Deb Germano, referring to the school budget process, weather and other events on the peninsula.

"We've got some hard things on the table that we need to deal with."

The district is in the midst of planning for the 2000-01 school year. Administrators predict a $3 million budget gap based on declining enrollment, rising costs and restraints on revenue. To compensate, the district is considering teacher layoffs, service cuts, fee increases and reorganizing the central office.

The school lunches were first in line for a price hike.

The district subsidizes school lunches. In the 1997-98 school year, the meals cost about $112,000 more than students paid. The following year, food service head Michael Lengenfelder was able to reduce the subsidy to $44,000, according to a memo from Patrick Hickey, the assistant superintendent in charge of finances.

"Although not all sites lose money, there are some significant factors involved in why the program runs a deficit," Hickey wrote. "The district offers lunch programs in smaller schools such as Moose Pass, as well as those that are also logistically expensive to serve, such as Port Graham or Tyonek. The combination of open campus high schools and community competition from 'fast food' restaurants reduces the numbers of school meals served. There is variability in the cost of labor based on staff seniority."

School by school, individual lunch prices vary, and the cash balance ranges from a loss of $3.23 per meal served to a profit of $0.51 per meal served. On average, the program lost 10 cents per meal, he said.

The district projects that, even with the 5-cent price increase, meal service will cost the district about $58,000 next year.

The school auditoriums, in contrast, have generated profits for the district -- in the past. The Kenai Central High School Auditorium and the Mariner Theatre at Homer High are used by many community groups and commercial ventures. But two years ago, the community theater programs started losing money.

The administration is proposing charges for school district and Kenai Peninsula College programs that have had free use of the facilities in the past. It also proposes 50 to 100 percent rate increases for other users.

School board member Sammy Crawford recommended the district solicit more discussion on the matter before enacting the new rates. Her motion to table the fee change passed unanimously.

Hickey told the school board the theaters are overextended. He attributed much of the red ink to overtime for theater crews. He also expressed concern that recurring cuts to line item requests prevent the theaters from replacing or upgrading their equipment.

The proposed new rate would be $300 per performance and $100 per rehearsal for school programs that previously were free; $500 per performance and $100 per rehearsal for nonprofits previously charged $265 per performance and $50 per rehearsal; and $1,500 or $750 per performance (depending on theater size) for commercial or political use previously charged $1,000 or $500.

In another action related to budget cuts, the school board voted to shelve plans to expand Soldotna Middle School.

"It is the consensus of the district administration (that) it would be imprudent to move forward with an expansion project during this period of declining enrollment projections and reductions in staffing at the middle school," Hickey told the board.

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