School food won't cost more

CONYERS -- The Food Services department at Rockdale County Public Schools continues to be affected by a slowing economy.

Although the department does not plan to increase meal prices for the next school year, it's going to have to continue to tighten its belt.

"The school nutrition fund has been cut more percentage-wise than (the RCPS) general fund," said Lee Davis, Chief Financial Officer at RCPS.

This year, state funds were reduced by 36 percent, he said.

Overall for the 2010-11 school year, the department plans to receive $8,638,200 in revenues from interest, sales, the state, federal reimbursements and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The budget also includes a beginning fund balance of nearly $2 million carried over from the current school year, according to the department's budget.

The budget is $109,200 more than the 2009-10 school year but still is considered a low amount due to a continued decrease in meal participation. Department Director Peggy Lawrence said adult participation is down 27 percent, but student lunch participation has increased by 2.4 percent to 78.6 percent and breakfast by 1.6 percent to 33.5 percent.

"From a fiscal perspective, (this school year) has been an extremely challenging year," Lawrence said recently in a report to the Rockdale County Board of Education. "The economy has presented some difficult challenges to us in terms of continuing to provide a high quality meal at an affordable price. However, we have done very well, considering the challenges we continue to face."

She said the after school snack program continues to grow at nine schools with a plan for at least one more next year. The snacks are provided at these sites for at-risk students at no charge to students.

Davis said the increasing free and reduced student lunch rate -- which is given to students based on their family incomes -- also has helped RCPS receive more income for those students. The current rate is at 61 percent, Lawrence said.

For next school year, the department plans to spend more than $8.6 million with nearly $3 million in salaries, more than $671,000 in benefits, nearly $4 million in purchased food, more than $242,000 in chemicals and paper supplies and other smaller expenses.

"In general, all expenses for non-essential items have been cut or reduced as much as possible, including travel, equipment, uniforms, computers and staff hours," Lawrence said. "I give much of the credit to my outstanding staff. They are where the rubber meets the road, and they continue to deliver high quality meals and service despite the most challenging of times."

Lawrence said meal prices are not planned to increase next school year. Current prices range from .30 cents to $1.60 for student and adult breakfasts and .40 cents to $3 for student and adult lunches.