Paying more for a lunch
District to raise prices for school meals, but $200,000 food-service deficit will remain
This fall, a turkey, cheddar and bacon panini meal will cost 75 cents more at Palo Alto High School, rising to $4.25, while chicken nuggets with the fixings at the elementary schools will cost $3.75 -- also a 75 cent increase.
The price hikes are two of the ways the Palo Alto school board is trying to reduce a $600,000 food-program deficit to $200,000 a year by next February. The board adopted the plan last week on a 4-1 vote, with board member Barb Mitchell dissenting. Mitchell said she wanted to see the food-service budget at zero.
"I don't see a break-even plan, and I'm not willing to break board policy," Mitchell said.
The district's food service, run by Chartwells, has lost in total more than $1.1 million over the last five years, according to a staff report.
In addition to the price increases, in which middle-school lunches will also rise to $4.24 each, students will have to pay for food with cash or prepaid meal cards. The district will no longer accept credit cards.
Each day all elementary schools will be required to pre-order the number of lunches they plan to serve that day. Elementary schools will also have to stagger their lunch breaks.
An earlier proposal to offer pre-packaged "grab and go" lunches was not adopted.
If the increased lunch prices and pre-ordering system do not work, the district may have to do away with hot lunches altogether, Associate Superintendent Jerry Matranga said.
"We're not as far as we would like to be because it's a culture of change," Matranga said. "There has to be some consistent practices in terms of how those facilities (school sites) are managed."
"PAUSD will enforce a pre-order system so we can get closer to the actual number of lunches we actually have to feed," Matranga added.
"Teachers are going to have to be willing" to pre-order lunches, he added. "Secretaries are going to have to be willing to call it in every day."
Parents of elementary school students will be able to pre-order lunches for their children online, Matranga said.
The only way to ensure food services gets back in the black next year would be to close both high school campuses for lunch, Matranga said.
Student board members Molly Kawahara from Gunn High and Peter Lo from Paly protested the idea of keeping teens from leaving school for lunch, saying open campuses promote "trust" and "freedom." Under the adopted plan, high school campuses will remain open during lunch time.
The board also renewed its contract with Chartwells.
Staff Writer Susan Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.