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State-funded meals limiting eastern Washington school district’s options

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(The Center Square) – Spokane’s Central Valley School District is considering raising the price of its breakfast and lunch options for the upcoming school year, a move that could offset costs amid rising inflation.

The district’s Board of Directors discussed the potential increase during its meeting on Monday. A decision is needed before the end of the month for the change to go into effect this fall.

Typically, CVSD offsets the cost of its Nutrition Services program with money collected through a local levy; however, Corey Groh, executive director of Human Resources & Operations, said the current funding model is becoming unsustainable given the significant increase in cost over the years.

“It’s very hard to stay competitive in the local market right now,” Groh said. “Especially in the food service realm.”

Federal regulation requires CVSD to ensure there is enough funding to provide meals to students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, but since the district lacks a self-sustaining program, it’s required to choose one of the following options:

Raise paid meal prices by the minimum amount required, $0.05Provide the difference in funding from non-federal sources, such as a levy like beforeSplit the difference between raising paid lunch prices and contributing non-federal funds

Over the past 13 years, CVSD has only raised meal prices by $0.15 for breakfast and $0.45 for lunch. Last school year, its Nutrition Services program required $1 million in supplemental funding through the local levy, a trend that continued into this year, totaling a similar amount.

Groh said that by slightly raising the price, CVSD would only generate approximately $19,324 in additional revenue for its program, which is far less than required if the trend in previous years continues.

Regardless, the additional revenue generated through the potential price increase is a needed boost as food and materials costs have shot up 40% since 2018. Groh said CVSD expects the associated costs, along with labor, to rise another 5% next school year.

“A big reason that makes that [additional revenue] so low is that fact that we don’t have a lot of our students that pay for their lunches,” Groh said.

The district’s Nutrition Services program relies on meal revenue and funding from state and federal programs to support itself, including the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, implemented last school year to provide free meals to qualifying students and schools.

Groh said CVSD currently uses CEP to provide free meals to all students at 13 of its 27 schools and program sites, with one more location expected to join next year. However, the downside is that CEP limits the district’s ability to generate additional revenue through raising meal prices.

Upon the end of the school year, CVSD estimates it will have served approximately 350,000 breakfasts and 1,012,383 lunches, including the meals of qualifying CEP students and schools and those who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals through other programs.

The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that CEP alone will cost taxpayers approximately $71 million annually for the over 575,000 students who qualify.

Even if CVSD does increase meal prices, it’s not expected to cover even remotely the cost that the district anticipates having to offset; if another non-federal funding source is not secured, CVSD officials will likely ask homeowners to consider raising their property taxes again.

The CVSD Board of Directors will decide how to proceed on June 24.

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