Londonderry School District Business Administrator Peter Curro informed the school board that the food service program ended the year with an operating loss of $16,000. “Revenues are 100 percent of the issue addressing the food service program,” he said at the Tuesday, July 23 meeting. “The Middle School revenue from one year to the next was a $50,000 drop. We knew that it was going to drop because we knew that enrollments across the board are dropping, and we accounted for that. What we didn’t account for: the participation rate at the middle school for reimbursable meals dropped by 2 percent, and the rest of it, which was a significant hit, was a significant drop in students purchasing second lunches and/or a la carte snacks. That was the majority of the drop at the middle school.”
Curro said they saw the trend around December. “January came back and it was OK and the third quarter was optimistic, maybe a $2,000 loss or break even, and in March, April, May and June it went back to where it was the first half of the year and the numbers dropped significantly, like a 6,000 or 7,000 loss from the previous year,” he said.
Curro said a survey is going out to middle school and high school parents on Aug. 1. “We’re hopeful that when we come back to you in October, this survey will give us some leads or ideas where the issues are, mainly in the middle school,” he said. “The high school numbers came in as projected. Elementary actually came in a little stronger than projected.”
Curro said expenses were on target, and the only two areas to affect the bottom line were supplies, which went up because of the quantity of fruits and vegetables and the requirement of how they are to be served, such as fruit in a plastic cup or bowl, which wasn’t foreseen or budgeted, and the repair/maintenance line, with the majority of that oven repairs at the middle school. That was solved by putting in new double ovens, Curro said.
Curro said labor costs were below expectations and food costs were right on target. “So it is a revenue issue,” he said.
School Board Chairman Nancy Hendricks said that was exceptionally frustrating. “We talked about this in February and we were in the black, and we were optimistic that we were going to finish up in the black. I get this but what happened?” Hendricks asked. “If it’s any consolation, we are not the only food service to lose money,” Curro said. “In fact we couldn’t find one that made money this year. If I had to guess about the middle school it would a combination of price increase and prior boards asking us to accelerate the closing of the MPR (Multi-Purpose Room), so we’re having more kids in the café, and a menu that changed drastically.”
He said school officials knew that middle school kids didn’t like having to take a fruit and/or vegetable and throw it away. “That theme was more prevalent in the middle school,” Curro said. Board member Steve Young asked if any kids went home hungry and Curro said they did not. “Besides people chucking their mandatory apple, are we reducing the amount of food we’re producing in step with the decrease in demand, or are we seeing waste,” board member John Robinson asked. He said that if they came in on budget for food purchases but were lower on sales, “that seems like a discrepancy in the amount of food we’re buying and the amount of food we’re selling.”
“Food prices for the budget went up 3 percent, a minor food increase cost,” Curro said. “There’s food being tossed because there’s a requirement to put on the tray a fruit and/or vegetable, and they’ll take it and as they walk by, not use it.” “But we’re not putting mountains of macaroni and cheese in the Dumpster every day,” Robinson continued. “No, not macaroni and cheese,” Curro said.
Robinson said he wasn’t focusing on what kids throw out, rather what the district might be over buying.
Board member John Laferriere asked if an additional price increase would go in next year and Curro noted the federal requirement to do so. “So we’re going to be suffering the same thing next year?” Laferriere asked.
Curro said he did not know the answer.
He noted that if the middle school had come in close to budgeted expectations, food service would have had an approximately $30,000 profit. Asked about the ratio of kids bringing lunch vs. buying lunch, Londonderry Middle School Principal Richard Zacchilli said it varies based on the menu. While Robinson suggested having brown bag lunch students in the MPR and purchased lunch students in the café, reducing the need to have serving lines in two places, board member Leitha Reilly said lunch was a social time and having one group in one room and another in a different room wouldn’t work.
Young said he wanted to put the loss in perspective and asked Curro what the food service budget was. Curro said it was $1.4 million. The loss was $16,000. “For those of you who listen to the radio and the stock market’s down seven points, the stock market’s not down, it’s flat. I consider being down $16,000 on $1.4 million to be flat,” Young said.