HERMITAGE — For the past several years, Hermitage School District’s cafeteria fund has been in the red.
When the trend started, the district had reserves to make up the shortfall, and the deficits were relatively small, said Business Manager Monique Barber. Officials hoped the fund would go back into the black.
However, the deficit’s appetite grew and in the 2010-11 school year it had eaten up what the district had in savings.
Last year, the fund lost $58,897, according to an audit accepted by the school board Tuesday, bringing the cumulative debt to $112,321.
“At some point, we needed to bring that cafeteria fund back to zero,” said Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bell,
explaining the accounting “paper transfer” that recently swallowed the deficit.
Several factors have fed expenses to outpace revenue, including increased personnel costs; the rising
cost of food; federal laws that have forced school districts to serve more fresh fruit and vegetables, a more expensive food category; and dropping participation rates, officials said.
“You’re not alone,” accountant Frank Nagy of Black, Bashor and Porsch told the board, referring to
the cafeteria funds of other school districts.
Governmental funding sources are “dropping off,” leaving school districts to pay more of the cost than
they had in the past, Nagy said.
Officials have resisted raising lunch prices to a level that the cafeteria fund will be assured to make money. Barber noted that lunch costs for students add up. Even parents whose children do not qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches do not necessarily have a lot of money to spend on lunches, she said.
“It’s a balancing act,” Bell said.
Bell said he can envision a day when the cafeteria fund again takes in more than it spends. The federal government is requiring school districts to increase prices by no more than 10 cents a year until the cost of a school lunch equals the free-lunch reimbursement rate.
As of last May, the free lunch reimbursement rate was $2.74 and lunch prices for this year were raised to
$1.65 at Artman Elementary School, $1.75 at Ionta Elementary and Delahunty Middle School and $1.95 at Hickory High School.
“I think the financial picture will improve over the next six or seven years just because of that (mandated
hikes),” Bell said In a related matter, officials are discussing what to do about a spate of cafeteria equipment failures, from the dish machine at Delahunty to the steamers at Delahunty and the high school.
Officials are determining what to replace, what to repair, what manufacturers they want to buy from and
how much they want to spend.
Some of the equipment is 40 years old and has outlived its usefulness, Bell said. The Hickory “steam line” – three steamers – is likely to cost upwards of $70,000, officials said.
Many items will be available under state contract, meaning the state had already received competitive
bids and the school district will not have to seek its own bids, Barber said.
Whatever decisions officials make, the money will come from general capital funds and will not be
charged to the cafeteria fund, Bell said