Plum lunch boycott spurred financial loss, official says
Plum students' lunch boycott year hit the district hard.
Food Supervisor Maryann Lazzaro told board members during a food and nutrition committee meeting last week that the district lost $147,131.11 in the 2012-13 school year after many students stopped eating lunches after complaining about increased prices and smaller portions as well as increases in fruits and vegetables.
“The boycott killed us,” Lazzaro said. “Until the students got it out of their systems, we took a hit. I will be in the district for 28 years in April, and this is the first year we had a loss. It caused sleepless nights.”
Lazzaro said in September 2012 when students returned to school they consumed 2,131 lunches, compared to the first month of school in the current year when the number increased by 409 to 2,540.
The months of October through December in 2012 also resulted in fewer lunch purchases than the same months in 2013.
The boycott was exacerbated by the price increase for the 2012-13 school year, Lazzaro said.
Lunch prices increased from $1.90 to $2.15 at the district's elementary schools and from $2.25 to $2.50 for secondary school students. The cost of milk increased 5 cents to 50 cents.
There were no lunch price increases for the current school year.
Also, the lunches beginning in the 2012-13 school year include servings of fruits and vegetables every day, only fat-free or low-fat milk, reductions in saturated and trans fat and lower amounts of sodium designed to conform to new federal mandates.
Lazzaro said in the wake of the federal mandates — known as the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — school districts across the U.S. are serving about a million less meals a day.
Lazzaro said the lunch situation improved as the 2012-13 school year progressed, in part, because of a slight relaxing of the federal regulations in April 2012.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in December permanently eased restrictions on the amount of grain and protein that school cafeterias participating in National School Lunch Program are permitted to serve students each week, Lazzaro said.
Board member Kevin Dowdell asked about the consequences if the district did not comply with the federal mandates.
Lazzaro said the district could potentially jeopardize the free and reduced lunch program.
Lazzaro said 20.8 percent of the student population qualifies for free and reduced meals.
Board President Sal Colella asked about the food service department's financial situation.
“I have a grave concern on the cash flow,” Colella said. “How long can the reserves sustain us if the losses continue?”
Lazzaro said the department has $235,841.
“We still have money in the bank to pay the bills,” Lazzaro said.
Lazzaro also anticipates the rebound of lunch sales to continue.
“I don't think we will ever be back to post (boycott) levels,” Lazzaro said. “But we will be close.”
Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.