MONROE, CT — School districts across the nation face deficits in their lunch programs after the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on sales, while students stayed home for hybrid and remote learning.
In November, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza says Monroe projected its own deficit to be north of $500,000. But since then, the district has worked closely with its food vendor, Sodexo, to reduce the projection to just over $61,000.
“We have some good news from March,” Kobza told the Board of Education at its meeting last Monday. “We served over 58,000 meals — the most by far all year. It was the single largest sales month, just shy of $200,000 in sales. The bottom line is this, the combined deficit is down to about $61,000 right now, at $61,396.”
Kobza said the operating statement shows a $91,396 deficit, but the district is waiting on the state to approve the cents-per-meal amendment the board approved a few meetings ago.
“Once that goes through, it will knock off $30,000 and get us to that $61,000,” he said.
One way to reduce the deficit was to increase the federal reimbursements per meal in the National School Lunch program by getting more students to participate.
Sodexo offered its Seamless Summer Option program, so the meals would be free to all Monroe residents under the age of 18, whether they are enrolled in Monroe public schools or not.
The school district also increased awareness of pickup locations and times for families to get school meals for their children at times when students learned remotely.
When students attended school for part of the week for hybrid learning, they were sent home with breakfasts and lunches for the days they learned remotely.
Sodexo also put together surveys to find what meals students desired most.
“The big thing is getting kids to eat lunches in school, rather than at home,” Kobza said. “It gave Sodexo a chance to provide different and more attractive options to kids.”
Sodexo also made concessions to Monroe public schools to reduce the financial hit.
“I think it should be noted that a lot of this is also due to Sodexo’s projected giveback of nearly $100,000 in fees this year to make that happen,” Kobza said of reducing the deficit. “And if we can get to the end of the year trending at this rate, the goal is to try to break even. April, May and whatever we have of June, we have a chance to break even, so that would be very welcome news for everybody.”
“The high school is going back to lunch. That will help a lot,” said Chairwoman Donna Lane.
On Monday, Masuk will reopen its cafeteria.