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Decatur School Board considering raising school meals, College Heights tuition prices

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Decatur School Board considering raising school meals, College Heights tuition prices

College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, South McDonough Street.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur School Board is considering raising prices for tuition at College Heights and school meals to reduce the amount of money that is supplemented by the general fund for both departments and generate more revenue.

At the work session on March 22, the board discussed increasing meal prices by 50 cents and increasing the College Heights tuition by 5% over three years.

The school system’s budget breaks down into four categories — the school nutrition revenue budget, the special revenue budget, the capital projects budget and the general fund budget.

The district anticipates receiving about $2.9 million in revenue for the school nutrition budget and expects to spend the same amount in fiscal year 2023. The largest source of revenue for this fund comes from sales, and the largest expenditures are for salaries and to purchase food. One thing that increases costs for the department is that CSD customers prefer premium and made-from-scratch food choices, which costs more and requires more labor to produce the product.

The school nutrition program services 10 schools, which is 5,364 students. About 9% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“The average daily participation percentage, which means it’s the average number of students that reimbursable meals served in a school nutrition program based on the kids that come to school every day, is 9.2% for breakfast and 52.9% for lunch,” said Tiffany Lawrence, school nutrition director.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the department shifted to providing meals at no cost to students and families, which changed where the majority of the school nutrition’s revenue came from.

“Now our revenue, as opposed to being our paid kids and a la carte sales and other things that we earn revenue through, we’re mostly getting our revenue from reimbursement because 100% of our kids are bringing in federal revenue,” Lawrence said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is not anticipating extending the no cost option, which may decrease participation in CSD’s school nutrition program as students will have to begin paying for meals again.

In order to generate more revenue for the school nutrition program, the school board is considering raising meal prices by 50 cents. The department is also looking at creating innovative menu ideas and premium meal pricing options.

Currently, the prices at the elementary schools for breakfast is $1.25 and for lunch is $2.75. At the middle and high schools, breakfast costs $1.65 and lunch is $3 for students.

The USDA has not required school districts to raise prices over the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For CSD, the last price increase was in the 2017-2018 school, when prices went up by 25 cents. The goal is to raise the prices close to $3.73 cents for lunch and $1.97 for breakfast to mirror the reimbursement rate of the USDA.

The plate cost for CSD is $1.94 for breakfast and $4.40 for lunch, which is the cost it takes to serve the meals to the kids.

“We want to be somewhere in that wheelhouse as far as where we’re going to be pricing, so we decided to do 50 cents,” Lawrence said.

The prices will gradually increase to $4.25 lunch at the elementary schools and $4.50 for lunch at the middle and high schools over the next three years. With the increased prices, revenue would increase by about $226,000 next school year.

City Schools of Decatur will increase its meal prices by 50 cents a year over the next three years. Photo courtesy of CSD.

The department is looking at serving more à la carte options, like fruit cups, smoothies, parfaits and veggie hummus cups, at the elementary schools. Lawrence said they plan to roll out the premium entrées, which would cost $3.50, at the middle and high schools, and a frozen coffee bar at the high school.

To help reduce costs, the school nutrition department will train staff on ordering and inventory management, as well as using standardized recipes and culinary skills.

Additionally, CSD is currently supplementing the early childhood learning center by about $394,000. To reduce the impact on the general fund, the board is looking at increasing the College Heights tuition by 5% over three years.

In September 2021, College Heights did not receive a Head Start grant, which provides funding for lower income students to get early childhood education. The principal and the ECLC advisory council began thinking about how to fund those spots at the school with the grants.

CSD also has an agreement with the Decatur Housing Authority to provide cost-free childcare. The advisory council came up with a tentative goal in the fall to fund nine tuition-free spots. Some ways to do that included a modest tuition increase and increasing the teacher to student ratio from 1:9 to 1:10.

Advisory council members raised some concerns about the reasons for raising money. They went into the process wanting to provide more tuition-free spots and there was shifted toward closing the funding gap and the amount of money that comes out of the CSD general fund to supplement the ECLC.

ECLC Advisory Council member Andy Navartil said that the proposal to raise tuition by 5% over three years was share with parents in January and was met with no negative reactions.

The district will also look into creating and implementing a sliding tuition scale for the FY24 budget for new families who get accepted into College Heights.

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