Rock Hill schools, facing steeper losses in student meal revenue than officials had anticipated, could raise prices for a second consecutive school year.
Prices won't change immediately. However, Rock Hill food service director Chad Mitchell said he might ask the school board to consider a hike of 5 to 10 cents more per meal next school year.
Families who qualify for free- and reduced-price school meals won't be affected by any changes because those costs are set and subsidized by the federal government.
The Rock Hill district has avoided annual lunch price increases, which Mitchell calls "nickel-and-diming people to death." Instead, he has opted for larger bumps every few years. The 50-cent price increase in August, for example, was the first jump in six years.
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But a increase might be unavoidable, said Bill Mabry, Rock Hill schools associate superintendent for administrative services.
School districts nationwide have been hit with soaring food and energy costs in recent months. In the past, food service departments broke even or profited, but now many are losing money.
Fort Mill schools face the same problem. During the 2007-2008 school year, the district's food service department, including depreciation, lost more than $100,000.
Fort Mill food service supervisor Linda Hill said that in the spring, officials will discuss whether to increase meal prices.
Fort Mill was the only one of York County's four districts that didn't raise meal prices at the start of the current school year. The district upped lunch prices by a dime at the start of the 2007-2008 school year.
Finance and food service department officials from the York and Clover school districts did not return calls seeking comment.
"It's just frustrating all the way around," said Mitchell, of the Rock Hill district. "We're just in the situation we're in because of factors beyond our control."
In the last two years, the Rock Hill schools food service department has lost more than $1 million, according to district figures.
Rock Hill's losses in 2007, including depreciation, topped $400,000. This year, it was more than $700,000. Department reserves have fallen from a 2006 high of about $3.5 million to about $2.3 million.
Mitchell said he's trying to trim costs. Staff members scrutinize meal portions. Employees are shifting locations and working fewer hours.
Rock Hill students already pay more for school lunch than their peers in York County's three other school districts.
In August, the Rock Hill school board voted to raise elementary lunch prices 50 cents, to $2. Middle- and high-schoolers saw the cost of lunch jump to $2.25. Breakfast remained at $1.
The extra revenue, Mitchell said, hasn't been enough.
According to the School Nutrition Association, the cost of producing a meal is about $2.92. Including federal reimbursements and student money, Rock Hill's food service department earns between $2.23 and $2.57 for each lunch.
Mitchell said he hopes food costs will come down in January. That could help postpone a price increase, which Mitchell said he sees as "a last resort."
Daily cost of school meals
Rock Hill schools
Breakfast: Elementary, $1; secondary, $1
Lunch: Elementary, $2; secondary: $2.25
Fort Mill schools
Breakfast: Elementary, $1; secondary: $1
Lunch: Elementary, $1.60; secondary, $1.85
Clover school district
Lunch: Elementary, $1.60; secondary: $1.85
York school district
Breakfast: Elementary, 75 cents; secondary, 75 cents
Lunch: Elementary, $1.55; secondary, $1.65
Chester County schools
Breakfast: Elementary, 85 cents; secondary, 85 cents
Lunch: Elementary, $1.50; secondary, $1.75