School lunch off the menu for Hope, Moose Pass kids

District cuts food program in effort to make it self-sufficient

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2006

Merchants in Hope and Moose Pass may see brown paper bag sales climb this year, following a decision to end the school lunch program at two Kenai Peninsula schools.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is withdrawing the lunch program from schools in Hope and Moose Pass in an effort to make the program self sufficient and prevent it from cutting into funding designated for educational purposes.

The school district wants to maintain the school lunch program at all of its schools, but not at the cost of hurting instruction, said Dave Spence, director of planning and operations for the school district.

The district’s lunch program is struggling to break even while continuing to serve 5,500 meals a day at 28 sites.

“Those all need to be paid for by cash sales as well as reimbursements we receive from the (United States Department of Agriculture) for students qualified for free or reduced-priced meals,” said Dean Hamburg, the district’s student nutrition services administrator.

Breaking even has been particularly difficult in schools in Moose Pass and Hope, where staff, equipment and supply costs exceed revenues generated by the meals served.

“There is no economy of scale to help us break even,” Hamburg said.

Staff have been serving just nine meals a day in Hope and 20 a day in Moose Pass. As of October, there were 11 students in Hope and 31 in Moose Pass.

“I’m an increase sales guy,” Hamburg said. “But I have to protect the overall integrity of the program by making some tough decisions.”

Expenses that exceed the program’s sales come out of the school district’s general operating fund, he said.

“And that’s money intended for the classroom,” Hamburg said.

Although the district’s lunch program generates about $2.6 million per year, expenses have been as high as $2.9 million, he said.

“In the past several years we have been exceeding our revenue by $200,000-300,000 a year,” he said.

Employee wages and benefits consume about 50 percent of the revenues, which leaves about $1.50 to pay for everything else that goes into making a school lunch, which includes one serving of bread, one protein, two fruits or vegetables, milk and an occasional dessert.

But more than just food goes into making each lunch. Other expenses include transportation, packaging and other supplies.

“And chemicals, you know you want to wash your dishes,” he said. “And that’s all got to come out of that $1.50.”

Hamburg said he is ultimately responsible for deciding when and where the program is operated.

“(And) the driver behind the decision is to keep the program self-sufficient,” he said.

Referring to himself as “Mister Fun-Time,” Hamburg also quickly took responsibility for a proposal to raise lunch prices.

If the proposal is approved, lunches for students in kindergarten through sixth grade will cost $2.75, up from $2.40. Lunches for students in seventh grade and up will cost $3, up from $2.75.

The Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education will hold an open meeting at the Borough Administration Building at 7 p.m. Monday.

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