Columbus (OH) Public Schools will cut about 11 percent of its 450-person foodservice staff, representing least 50 positions, before next school year, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch. In order to keep within its current fiscal year’s $24 million budget, the department will also immediately begin trimming $1.5 million in spending by cutting overtime, stopping the use of substitute workers to fill in for ill regular workers, drawing down current inventory rather than making new purchases and relying more on government-subsidized product. Columbus schools serve some 25,000 school lunches a day.
FSD Dudley Hawkey blames increased costs for gasoline, plastics, and fruits and vegetables for the budget imbalance, telling the Dispatch that, for example, plastic utensils and lunch packaging prices has increased 20 to 20 percent in the past year.
He said he doubted that a recently introduced program to offer free breakfasts to all students played a part in increasing the budget deficit since the program, as well as another recent initiative to offer meals to summer school students, also bring increased federal subsidy dollars to cover the increased costs.
A more likely cause for the budget problem is a reluctance to increase meal prices, officials told the Dispatch. While the district did raise the prices of lunches by 50 cents this year, to $1.50 for elementary students and $1.75 for the upper grades, they remain below the average for other school districts in the county. They were also the first price increase in more than a decade.
The foodservice department cuts are part of a broader systemwide round of belt-tightening at Columbus Schools brought about by a need to compensate for losses to charter schools and to extend the life of an operating levy, the Dispatch reported. In all, the district needs to trim $28 million from its 2006-07 budget. Plans call for closing a dozen schools at the end of this school year, and shedding more than 400 teaching positions, about nine percent of the teaching force.