SHEFFIELD -- The Southern Berkshire Regional School Committee is evaluating its school lunch program, which has run up a deficit of $37,780 halfway through the school year, in part, because its schools no longer sell profitable "junk food."
The federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 aims to curb child obesity by mandating nutritious options -- more fruits and vegetables -- through the National School Lunch program, but some students didn't buy into it once it took effect this school year. Public schools in the National School Lunch program qualify for federal subsidies and food through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Junk food -- chips, ice cream and sugary beverages -- is no longer sold at the public schools. For the district, junk food had produced an average profit margin of 70 percent. The margin on healthy food is about 20 percent, according to John Tranfaglia, the district's director of food services. Tranfaglia said other factors may also be in play, including a declining student population.
At this rate, the district is projecting a year-end lunch program deficit of $74,904. The school year lunch program budget is $302,592.
Southern Berkshire Regional schools aren't the only ones struggling because of the new nutrition rules. The public schools in Nikayuna, N.Y., recently opted out of the National School Lunch program because its students were throwing away most of their lunches.
According to Southern Berkshire Regional, the number of meals served per day has dropped from 455 in the 2010-11 school year to 415 last school year. This school year, the district is serving about 342 meals a day.
The school committee has directed members of its finance subcommittee to evaluate the school lunch operations and report back with recommendations. The deficit could require an increase in the $2.25 lunch price, a reduction in cafeteria staffing or other solutions.
"We are aware of the problem, the problem is complex and it needs to be examined from many points of view and we will address it," said school committee member Vito Valentini.
Valentini, who chairs the finance subcommittee, said the subcommittee would need to determine why the shortfall exists and if that would need to be factored into the fiscal 2014 school district budget.
Raising the price of lunch would be counterproductive, Valentini said, if they find the problem is that lunches are already too expensive.
Cafeteria staffing may also need to be decreased. The national average is 12 meals served per employee an hour, but Southern Berkshire Regional's is 7-to-1, according to a school official.
"It's not good to have a significant loss to anything not directly related to [educational] programs for children," said school committee Chairman Carl Stewart.