By JOSH NEWTON
Federal regulations, increased food costs and district site changes caused the Child Nutrition Services of Tahlequah Public Schools to lose money for the first time in a number of years, but leaders say they will soon recover.
Child Nutrition Director Rhonda Kerns said the program lost about $181,600 last year. The negative balance was expected throughout the year, but Kerns and her team fought all year to make up for the losses.
Kerns said several factors played into the loss.
New federal regulations, which force students to take food they may not even want, have resulted in additional food expenses for the district. More food has also been wasted as a result of the regulations. Nutrition guidelines have also changed, causing kitchen staffs to remodel their recipes and buy different foods.
Food costs have risen, Kerns said, causing the district to see a $3.10-per-case increase this year; that added nearly $155,000 in costs throughout the school year.
Additional payroll that came with the addition of Heritage School, and the transformation of Sequoyah into a pre-kindergarten center, added nearly $150,000 in costs this year.
“So these were primary factors this year that are not permanent,” said Kerns. “We will come back. We’ll be back in the ‘black’ again.”
In the district, 85.1 percent of the meals served in the 2012-’13 school year were to children who participate in the free and reduced meals program; 73.1 percent of the district’s enrollment participates in that program, which provides the district with federal reimbursement that accounts for 81.2 percent of the nutrition service income.
Board members also heard during Thursday night’s special meeting about a number of projects taking place throughout the district before school starts. The high school will see some new pavement in parking-lot areas, and will also have its intercom system updated.
Teachers will return to school Aug. 9, and students begin their first day of school on Aug. 14. Superintendent Lisa Presley told the board that plans are to begin Boys & Girls Club activities the first day of school.