RALEIGH, N.C. — The rough economy has many families struggling to put healthy food on the table, but imagine what it's like for a school system to feed a balanced meal to thousands of hungry kids.
Local school nutrition departments have been reducing staff, raising prices and trying to rev up revenue.
“(That’s) $800,000 more that we’re paying for milk than we did two years ago,” said Marilyn Moody, Wake County Schools’ nutrition director.
The standard meal price is up 25 cents in Durham County and 10 cents in Johnston County
In Wake and Cumberland counties, the cost of a la carte items is up anywhere from 5 to 50 cents, but the standard meal price remains the same. However, that could change.
“As everything else has gone up – food, labor, gas – it will probably follow suit,” Moody said.
Some parents have felt the pinch, which means elementary school extras such as snacks are not a priority.
“I’m seeing smaller snackables and things like that. Some children don’t have them at all,” said Jennie Privette, a teacher at Holly Springs Elementary School.
Parents have also been passing more bad checks for their children's meals.
For the 2007-08 school year, more than $30,000 worth of checks bounced in Wake County. Close to $20,000 of that has yet to be collected.
The schools hired help to stop the bad check problem this academic year.
“This contractor will pay us, literally, the face value of that check and then serve as the collection agency,” Moody said.
The schools are also trying to collect more money from the federal government. That budget increases when more students eat the cafeteria food, and schools are working hard to get those sales.
“We happen to have a very good chef here, and he spends a lot of time making sure meals are healthy and have good taste," said Glenn Horton, a teacher at Centennial Campus Middle School.