PICKENS COUNTY—A 10-cent increase for school meals will be included in this year’s $7 million food service budget for Pickens County Schools.
The increase in the price for school meals is being mandated by the federal government, according to Alex Saitta, chairman of the school board.
“The federal government subsidizes each meal sold in school cafeterias,” said Saitta. “That subsidy grows every year, so some districts charge very low prices for their meals. The USDA is cracking down on such school districts. Districts charging less than $2.50 a meal are required to raise their meal price about 10 cents a year. Our district charges $1.75 a meal on average, and is caught in that USDA net.”
The decision comes with some skepticism from some board members, who say the food quality should be raised with extra revenue.
“A 10-cent increase will give food services an extra $80,000 in meal revenue,” said Saitta. “Before I voted for that meal increase, I wanted assurance the $80,000 was going to be spent on improving the quality and taste of the food. That is, that money should be given right back to the customer who is paying the higher cost, in the form of a better product.”
The idea from Saitta, however, did not catch on.
“Mine was a good idea, but it didn’t get any traction. The meal price increased and the extra $80,000 will be dumped into the food service budget (and not earmarked for improving the meals),” said Saitta. “Trotter and I voted against the meal price increase.”
Saitta says this is the first time the board has had to make a decision like this.
“This is the first year the board has reviewed and approved the $7 million food service budget,.” said Board Chairman Alex Saitta. “What we uncovered was food service had a month to month budget process, but not an annual budget process. That is changing, as an annual budgeting is now required. Better accounting for this $7 million business is a good thing.”
With an inevitable increase on the way, Saitta is still concerned with food quality, and says he firmly believes people should be getting what they pay for.
“We asked food service to take an employee survey, and we found 83% rated the service as satisfactory, 87% rated the atmosphere of the cafeteria as satisfactory, but only 51% said the food taste/ quality was satisfactory,” he said.