Should lunch for an elementary school-aged child cost in the neighbourhood of $9?
It’s a question city council and staff are bouncing around as they consider slashing grant amounts in half for food programs in 18 schools across the city.
The district’s Food4School program had received $320,000 from the city in both the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 school years. The program was established in 2015/2016 and got $222,895 at that time.
Between 32,000 and 44,000 lunches were served to vulnerable kids annually during that three-year span, and school board chair Janet Fraser expects the level of need to be similar this year.
That’s where the similarities end, as this year’s grant will likely check in at $160,000. That final funding decision will be made by council in March. Should the overall costs remain in the ballpark of $320,000, the district will be left to foot the bill or look for other funders.
“This was communicated from the city staff to our staff and we asked if they had been given any explanation or understanding of that and the answer is no they haven’t,” Fraser told the Courier.
A city statement provided to the Courier suggests rising costs and a decrease in the number of kids getting those meals is behind the cut.
“Other comparable meal programs, including those run through the city, deliver nutritious meals at a lower cost per meal, thus serving more people,” the statement said.
A district staff report notes that meal costs have risen each year since the program’s inception: $6.47 in 2016, $7.59 in 2017 and $7.61 last year. The city says the 2019 number is $8.72 per lunch.
Comparable food programs the city subsidizes elsewhere in town check in at $3.54 per breakfast for students and family members through the Strathcona Community Centre Association, or between $4.30 and $6.20 via the Carnegie Community Centre’s food program.
Come July, council will decide whether to renew $80,000 in funding for the Strathcona Community Centre Association’s breakfast program grant for the 2019/2020 school year.
While Fraser and district staff don’t yet have projections for the number of meals needed in 2019, the numbers are likely to remain in the range of 40,000 as in years past.
“VSB projects similar needs for subsidized nutrition services in schools currently receiving meals,” a district spokesperson said. “Generally, there is also student need beyond those who are supported through this program.”
For its part, city officials are suggesting the school district lobby the province to help fill in any gaps.
“The city recognizes that school meal programs are a provincial responsibility, and are encouraged by the province’s work on a poverty reduction strategy,” read a statement issued by the city. “We would support a VSB request for additional provincial funding for the VSB meal programs.”