Rising food costs are biting into Oklahoma City Public Schools' finances just as they are striking consumers' wallets in grocery stores and restaurants.
As a result, the price of school meals in the district will increase over the next three years, a measure the board approved Monday night.
"I wish that I could say that prices will go down and maybe we've maxed out, but I don't think that's the case," said Steve Gallagher, director of child nutrition services.
The cost of food to the district jumped higher in April than it has since 1980, Gallagher said.
The district spent $7 million on food this year, including $200,000 more on milk in the 2007 fiscal year than the year before, he said.
Elementary meals will rise 20 cents each year for the next three years, and secondary and adult meals will rise 25 cents each year.
The district is projected to remain below market and regional averages after the price increases.
"I'm personally scared from what I've seen and read. I think it's going to be tough ahead," Gallagher said. "We need to act now."
Reasons for hike
Gallagher said reasons for the price jumps include:
• Higher fuel costs.
Shifting corn and cropland to bioenergy uses.
Using healthier but costlier foods like whole grains.
Unusually severe weather patterns.
Mandatory increases in minimum wage.
Exporting food overseas to stronger markets.
"It's having a major impact on the entire food industry, as I'm sure Ms. Vines can attest to," said Gallagher, referring to school board member Gail Vines, who co-owns Flip's Wine Bar & Trattoria.