Columbia school board to discuss rising food costs
COLUMBIA - Dozens of children at Russell Boulevard Elementary flood the cafeteria, grabbing trays with milk cartons, ravioli, grapes and carrots. In the last few years, more Columbia-area students have enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals Program. That is one of several factors contributing to the increasing deficit in nutritional services for Columbia Public Schools.
Laina Fullum, who works as nutrition services director for CPS, will present current numbers on rising food costs to the board Monday evening, according to Columbia Board of Education member Darin Preis.
"There are several factors contributing to this issue, but one significant one is that the number of free and reduced lunches students in our district is going up," Preis said.
The amount the school district gets reimbursed for those students is actually less than what is costs to prepare those meals, he said.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shows steady growth in the free-and-reduced-meal program between 2011 and 2014. For CPS, the number of students using the program has increased from 6,410 to 6,735 students in three years.
Preis said changes in national standards have increased food prices and some of that food goes to waste, because it's not always what students would like.
"We're required to serve foods they don't necessarily eat," Preis said. "So we end up with a lot of product in the trash. So we want to give our students the cheapest, but still high-quality, food that they'll actually eat."
Preis also said CPS is also paying food staff more.
"We have to make sure food staff wages are competitive in the Columbia market, so wages have gone up. We've also added benefits, and we want our employees to receive what they deserve, but it does all add up," he said.
Preis said the nutrition services program is designed to be self-sufficient, and has gone beyond breaking even in the past, actually raising money for public schools. But food costs have created an increasing deficit in the school budget for several years now. Monday will be the first time the school board officially discusses this issue. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the CPS building.