SHEFFIELD -- Efforts to expand cafeteria options in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District near the end of the school year helped to revive slumping sales -- but not enough to prevent a budget deficit, according to Superintendent Michael Singleton.
The cafeteria budget ended the school year with a $44,000 deficit -- far less than officials had feared earlier in the year when new government nutrition rules began to put a crimp in sales.
"At one time we were really worried that our deficit would be as high as $75,000 a year," Singleton said.
In the summer of 2012, state and federal regulations were implemented to promote healthy food and restrict the sale of a la carte items. As a consequence, officials said, students stopped buying lunch and cafeterias across the district began experiencing budget woes.
The problems were echoed in other local districts, including in Pittsfield Public Schools, Lee Public Schools, and Central Berkshire Regional School District.
To correct the deficit in Southern Berkshire, Singleton said the district eliminated a part-time cafeteria employee worker. Singleton said the savings is estimated at $25,000 and he said the employee had planned on retiring. He also said there could be a reduction in labor hours.
"Whenever you run into a deficit it's a problem," Singleton said, "but the changes in reducing labor force and hours is going to have a major effect on the deficit.
The district also made some changes to the menu choices.
Mount Everett student Joe Makuc said has he noticed an expanded a la carte menu and more side dishes.
Makuc, who has written critically about the lunch selection in his school newspaper, said he's also noticed a change in attitude. He said ice cream is still no longer sold, but instead there is sorbet. His peers can purchase a chef's salad to accompany a sandwich instead of turning to the salad bar.
"It seems like people in general are more willing to buy because there are more meal options," Makuc said. "Even if they don't dislike the main meal they'll eat the side dishes or a la carte items. Everyone likes sorbet."
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