Providing health, nutritious, organic food to children in the Berkeley public schools is a noble and worthy goal, but it’s also a costly one, the school board was reminded this week.
The Berkeley Unified School District’s food program will lose money this year, and the deficit is projected to increase next year, according to a report prepared by the Child Nutrition Services office.
Based on current estimates, the district will lose more than $48,000 on the program, a sharp reversal from the $60,000 profit it made during the last school year. During the 2000-2001 school year, the food program is forecast to lose more than $130,000.
The reason, says program director Elsie Lee-Szeto, is rather simple: Increased activity requires more staff and more supplies.
The food program’s projected revenues for this year – almost $2.14 million – are more than $300,000 higher than last year. But the expenses have grown from $1.74 million to more than $2.18 million.
This year, a number of new programs have been instituted around the district, including ones initiated by last year’s passage of a district-wide food policy. That policy generated national media attention because of its promotion of organic food, but it included a wide range of other substantive proposals and plans, including soup-salad bars at schools, nutritious after-school snacks and a move toward more recycling, reusing and composting efforts.
Lee-Szeto told the school board that progress is being made in each of the goals outlined in the food policy. For example, Oxford School has established a weekly organic soup and organic salad bar, and participation is 40 percent to 60 percent higher than on regular meal days. A similar effort is in the works at Washington School.
The district needs to look for other revenue sources to help offset the increased costs, but it also must look at its facilities.
“At this stage, I think the Child Nutrition Services is realistically maxing out on what it can do with its currently facilities,” parent Eric Weaver, who was involved in the development of the district’s food policy, told the school board Wednesday night.
The report and its recommendations will return to the board for action in the coming weeks.