Fueling student performance
Marion school district increases budget for free meals at public schools.
Marion County public school officials have raised the district’s food budget $3.5 million so students can continue to receive free breakfasts, lunches and, at some locations, after-school meals.
The additional money, on top of $8 million the Marion County School Board previously approved for food services this school year, are needed to offset rising food and fuel costs, district officials told the board on May 9. The $3.5 million will come from U.S Department of Agriculture child nutrition program funds.
Marion County Public Schools’ Department of Food and Nutrition Services aims to provide healthy food alternatives for students to encourage academic success. These items include fruits and vegetables, grains, baked foods, milk, juice, and more.
Supervisor of Food Services Jamie Lovett said an average increase of 30% to 40% in prices of food and supplies is driving the rising expenditures.
Lovett shared other components, such as the department’s delivery fee tripling since 2019. The price grew from $1.27 to $3.85 per case delivered to each campus. With trucks and vehicles transporting the cases, the surcharge cost of gas per delivery has been factored into the expenditure as well.
The district not only provides students with breakfast, lunch, and options for both meals throughout the academic year but also provides an after-school meal program, which has been expanded, leading to an increase in costs. In 2021-2022, just five locations with students who stayed after school received a full meal. In the 2022-2023 school year, this option was provided at 36 sites.
“We will continue to monitor the expenses and make decisions accordingly to ensure we are financially responsible with our funding,” Lovett said.
The department has contracted since 2014 with P.O.W.E.R Buying Group, or PBG, which procures, stores, and delivers food service products and supplies weekly to public and charter schools in the district. PBG provides USDA-approved nutritional meals for students and purchases the items at a reasonable price needed to supply breakfast and lunch options.
A supporting vendor, Sysco Jacksonville, Inc. of Florida, works with PBG to provide distribution services. For this fiscal year, $7,192,685 has been paid to the vendor, according to the school board agenda item for the increase that was submitted.
The district has been approved to receive $379,690 from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services through the Supply Chain Assistance Funding Program, or SCA. On Nov. 8, 2022, the school board approved this award’s original amount of $857,743. Through this second award, the total aid package has increased to $2,101,289. The funds are provided through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program to school districts facing supply chain disruptions.