School food-service directors say serving cafeteria meals means managing budgets where every penny counts.

Self-operating programs run by district employees are set up to function as separate businesses and rarely receive any money from the school district's budget. To stay afloat, these food programs rely mainly on sales of meals.

There are two basic types of revenue from meals: money from students paying the full price, and government reimbursements for meals served to students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

For the current school year, the federal government reimburses $2.57 for every free lunch. Reduced lunches, for which districts usually charge students 25 cents, receive a $2.17 federal reimbursement. Districts get 24 cents from the federal government for a full-priced meal.

The state also reimburses 5.99 cents for free and full-priced meals, and 19.81 cents for reduced-price meals.

Revenue from full-priced meals varies from district to district; the average price last year was $1.66 per meal, according to a Newsday survey. School boards dictate what cafeterias charge for a meal.

Another major source of revenue, the largest amount in some districts, is money from the sale of a la carte items -- any snack items students purchase outside the reimbursable meal and meals sold to adults. Some districts also cater school functions to make money.

The major expenditures are for food and labor. Other expenses include equipment, maintenance and supplies.

Here is a typical budget, from the West Babylon food service for the 2008-2009 school year:


Food: $735,257

Labor: $663,673 (employee salaries), $220,500 (health, dental and life insurance benefits; uniforms, Social Security, retirement)

Equipment: $40,000 (including purchase and maintenance of such items as refrigerators, ovens, pots, pans, spatulas)

Materials/supplies : $69,000 (e.g., trays, soap, aluminum foil)

Conferences: $2,500 (food service conferences and membership dues for organizations such as the School Nutrition Association and the Long Island food co-op)


Full-priced meals: $575,000

Other food sales (a la carte snacks, teacher meals, catering): $522,629

Checking account interest: $1,500

Federal reimbursements: $360,000 (est.)

State reimbursements: $40,000 (est.)

Funds from the district's budget: $75,000

Inventory (value of food and supplies left over from previous year): $39,452

Fund balance (state law bars districts from having more than three months of operating costs): $76,213

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