WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — From grocery bills to airplane tickets, inflation is hitting everyone. At the Walton County School District, the bill for buying milk has increased by more than 50%.
Since the pandemic and supply chain issues began in 2020, the price of providing breakfast and lunch for students has continued to increase.
“Food cost last year, that was one of our biggest challenges. We saw a huge increase in food costs last year, food supplies were up 26%,” said Robert Martin, Food Services Director.
The food services department said milk is the big-ticket item, spending $188,000 more in the 2022-23 school year than the year prior, a 53% increase for the cardboard cartons of dairy. For 2023-24, August milk prices were $15,000 higher than August 2022.
The district said they could afford the increase because they planned for it.
“We planned on this back in 21-22, you know, and part of the strategies that we did to move it forward was making sure that we took advantage of all USDA resources that were available out there. So we took advantage of all the waivers which helped increase our fund balance to help weather the storm for increased expenditures that we’re experiencing now.”
Martin said the increase is caused by a number of factors.
“The one thing that has changed is, of course, you know, the problems that we have with supply chain, sometimes we have many deviations because we’re not able to get things in time. Pods are harder to fulfill. And plus, transport companies are charging higher premiums now and that’s that’s causing manufacturers to delay some shipments,” said Martin.
Martin said funding power is in the numbers. The school district is urging everyone to participate in school lunches to help give them data for future funding.
“We get entitlement funds, which are based on school participation, which means we can utilize these entitlement funds for things like processing. We’re getting invoice discounts off of things like chicken and cheeses, things of that nature,” said Martin. “There’s DOD funds that we use for fresh produce. As participation increases, we get more funding for that, and then just general commodity items that may come in, we’ll get more entitlement funds for that to bring that in.”
Walton Middle School food service worker Susan Zorn said she has seen the lunch lines change over the last two decades.
“A lot of the regulations that came in years ago, we used to get like do a lot of homemade meals. Now it’s more processed,” said Zorn.
This year she says the start of school has been easy.
“So far pretty good and hadn’t been without of anything,” said Zorn.
Martin also said more kids are choosing to drink milk at school this year. Up from 50% to 70% for the first month.
For information on food services and applications for free or reduced lunch click here.