Nickel added to SDPC meal prices

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County’s student nutrition services (SNS) was on the hot seat for much of Monday night’s board of trustees meeting.

District SNS director Sally Nicholson presented the board with a request to increase student meal prices for the 2013-2014 school year and presented the SNS general fund budget, which is separate from the SDPC general fund budget, for approval.

Nicholson explained to trustees that per Federal regulations from the USDA, school districts that charge less than $2.59 for lunches must either increase their meal prices using the weighted average formula provided by the USDA or add non-Federal funds to the student nutrition services program.

“For South Carolina, the non-federal funds would come from the general fund budget in the amount of $37,578.78,” said Nicholson. “The second option is to raise meal prices by a nickel.”

By 2015, SNS is required to have meal prices that match the current $2.59 per meal regulation. Trustee Jim Shelton expressed his concern that a nickel increase is not going terribly far to bridge that gap or come into compliance with the USDA standards for pricing.

With the $0.05 increase, elementary students would pay $1.20 for breakfast and $1.80 for lunch; and middle and high school students would pay $1.20 for breakfast and $2.05 for lunch. Reduced priced meals would remain at $.40 per meal.

Nicholson’s presentation to the board comes on the heels of an adult survey of school cafeterias conducted at Liberty, Clemson, Hagood and Ambler Elementary schools as well as Gettys Middle and Pickens High schools.

According to those survey results, adults were pleased with customer service and atmosphere in the school cafeterias but were less than satisfied in the areas of quality, taste, quantity and choices.

Trustee Alex Saitta asked why SNS doesn’t conduct a survey to find out why people are not eating in the cafeterias. He also expressed concern that in an attempt to be more economically efficient, SNS is declining in the quality of food it serves.

“When I look at these survey results, I’m not impressed at all. When you look at how people rate satisfaction with the food, the results seem to be worse than last year,” said Saitta. “My concern is the same as it was last year. You are getting a windfall in higher prices. I want to see that money actually earmarked and spent on a program to improve the quality of food.”

Nicholson explained that SNS has made a great deal of quality changes in its menus, which include eliminating processed foods and preparing more meals from scratch, offering a greater assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, and following USDA guidelines to provide meals with greater nutritional and quality standards.

“We are processing higher quality items,” said Jenaffer Pitt, one of Nicholson’s SNS team members. “We do have a stigma of being a cafeteria, and a lot of adults won’t eat in the cafeteria because it is a cafeteria. The students follow suit. For years and years and years the cafeteria is the place you don’t want to eat.”

Board chair Judy Edwards pointed out that if the board did not vote to increase meal prices, funding would have to be removed from the general fund to subsidize the SNS budget per USDA and Federal government guidelines.

Saitta said he would not support the nickel increase in meal prices unless SNS created a new, separate mini budget devoted solely to the purpose of improving the quality of food — the areas of quality, taste, quantity and choices.

“Two years ago this department was bleeding, and the general fund subsidized it. It has become more efficient, but this move toward efficiency has gone too far,” said Saitta. “This fund balance is growing. There is this move to cut quality to make money. They need to address more effectively the quality of the food. Take the windfall and create a mini budget that says this money is going to be set aside to improve quality.”

SDPC board members voted unanimously to approve the $0.05 meal price increase, with the amended stipulation that Nicholson create a new food quality improvement budget. As such, approval of the current SNS budget for the 2013-2014 academic year failed in a 3-2 vote.