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Fri, March 22

Higher prices pinch school food budget

TERRY ORGAN/Miner<br><br>
Niky Miller, a baker in the food services department of the Kingman Unified School District, shows freshly baked banana bread Tuesday being readied for student lunches. The district kitchen at Hualapai Elementary School prepares lunches for about 7,000 students each school day and a smaller number of breakfasts.

TERRY ORGAN/Miner<br><br> Niky Miller, a baker in the food services department of the Kingman Unified School District, shows freshly baked banana bread Tuesday being readied for student lunches. The district kitchen at Hualapai Elementary School prepares lunches for about 7,000 students each school day and a smaller number of breakfasts.

KINGMAN - Rising costs of commodities and a weakened dollar on the global market threaten to push America into a recession and are impacting the food service program in the Kingman Unified School District.

Karma Jones, director of food services, said her budget for 2007-08 is about $800,000. That is up 3 percent from last year and still not keeping pace with costs.

"We get fuel surcharges on some of our deliveries, so the fuel and ethanol situation has taken a big bite out of our budget," Jones said.

Ethanol and alternative fuel prices impact soybean and corn products, she said.

Wheat that cost $4 per bushel a year ago now costs $10 per bushel.

The price of corn also has jumped in the past year from $2 per bushel to $6, Jones said.

In addition, flour that she bid $11 last year for now costs $21, Jones said.

The rising price of fuel, coupled with increases in feed costs, has driven up prices for meat and dairy products, too.

"I can easily say that our overall food costs in the past year have risen 7-9 percent," she said.

"It's not all fuel that's driving costs. The weakened dollar has made it easier for other countries to buy our products, so we're selling more on the global market."

The district's food service budget was in good shape at the start of the 2007-08 school year, Jones said. But factors cited have made inroads into the budget.

"The national average price for a school lunch when you figure in labor, benefits and other costs is $2.85 per plate," she said. "Free lunch federal reimbursement is $2.47 per plate, so we're behind the 8-ball."

Jones, who retires as food service director at the end of this fiscal year, said she believes things will level out in time.

Loan institutions got America into its financial mess now reflected in a weakened dollar that permits other countries to buy our products at good prices. Fuel demands on the rise further muddle the picture.

"I don't see this going away until the dollar becomes stronger and fuel prices level out," Jones said. "The latter certainly isn't going to happen with oil at $117 per barrel as of (Monday)."

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