Each month, the Carroll Board of Education peruses a variety of reports, including one on the status of cafeteria operations in the district's 30 schools.
Usually, such reports cause little or no pause.
But the most recent cafeteria report included a postscript from the superintendent: if the system continues to operate in the red, a price boost will be considered.
The most recent report, given to the board in February, shows an $85,735 loss for the school year as of Dec. 31. The system ended last school year with a $55,558 loss.
"It's not a pretty picture," said Superintendent R. Edward Shilling. "We continue to lose money . . . If we need to increase lunch prices, we will recommend that."
School officials said an increase, if any,would be in the 10-cents to 15-cents range.
Currently, lunch prices are $1 for elementary pupils, $1.10 for middle and high school students and $2.05 for adults. School officials last raised prices -- by10 cents -- at the beginning of the 1989-1990 school year.
"I estimate -- at the present time -- that we will have a $200,000 loss by the year's end," said James E. Reter, director of business and finance. "That will still leave us with about $300,000 in reserve. That's about what we need to in reserve to pay bills when they come in."
Shilling has asked the staff to continue to monitor the situation and report back to the board "as soon as you have a better handle" on the financial picture.
Eulalia M. Muschik, supervisor of food services, said school officials considered a price increase for the currentschool year but decided a hike would decrease lunch participation.
"That's really the name of the game -- to increase your volume," she said. "But that's also the thing we never know when we set prices.
Lunch participation has increased about 5 percent this year over last, but the increase has not been enough to offset losses, Muschik said. She estimated that about a 10 percent increase in participation would be needed to balance the books.
"Basically, prices are not high enough," Muschik said. "We've had some fairly significant increases in some particular food items. That has created some of this problem."
She noted that the district used to receive bonus cheese fromthe federal government but that program has almost stopped over the past two years. As a result, the cost of producing a piece of pizza, for example, has increased from 17 cents to 35 cents a slice.
"Weused that bonus cheese in the making of pizza," she said. "We're paying twice as much for pizza -- our No. 1-selling item -- as we were two years ago."
Reter said the cafeteria operations at each school will be reviewed to determine which schools are incurring larger losses. Officials will review such things as food and labor costs and student participation.
"We will check to see what makes food costs high at a particular school," he said. "They could be giving too large of portions away or throwing away too much food."
Muschik said about 160 people work in the district's cafeterias, which operate on about a $4 million annual budget. Generally, employees work three to five hours a day. The number of workers at each school depends on the number of students and overall participation, she said.