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CPS losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in nutrition services

In the last three years, the Columbia Public Schools district has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in its meal program.

Wednesday night, the CPS finance committee met with the Nutrition Services Director to talk about the future of that program.

CPS Nutrition Services expected to make a loss of nearly $241,000 this school year, according to officials.

In years past, the program has always paid for itself. But if the trend continues, nutrition services may have to take money from the CPS Operating Budget to keep running.

Since federal regulations for school nutrition standards took effect in the 2012-2013 school year, the ending balance of CPS Nutrition Services has dropped significantly each year.

“We’re losing at a pace of about $200,000-$250,000 a year right now,” CPS Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said. “But then as we open Beulah-Ralph we will anticipate that that $250,000 will become $450,000 or $500,000 because of the extra cost of staffing and supplies for a new building.”

In addition to adding new buildings and staffing, less students have participated in the breakfast and lunch programs each year bringing down funds even more.

“When you have to make additions to accommodate the new regulations and then they’re unsuccessful, then that’s when we have trouble,” CPS Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum said.

Las month, CPS started a new program called Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP. The program gives free meals to students in seven schools through federal reimbursement.

Some families were not able to pay for their meals, creating a high amount of debt in those schools, Fullum said. If enough students participate in the CEP program, it could bring in more funding.

“We’re hoping to off-set the fact that if we’re not charging them and we have a higher rate of reimbursement from the federal government that we can offset growing debt balances, unpaid balances, and then we also want to increase participation,” Fullum said. “So the combination of those two things will help to generate more revenue.”

At the finance committee meeting, Fullum told committee members one way to help with the shrinking nutrition services balance was to reduce the cost of school breakfasts. Fullum said that could be done by reducing staff at schools with low breakfast participation.

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