Healthy Food Program to Lose District Funding

Photo: Each price may increase by 25 cents
Jacquelyn Hoffman/File
Each price may increase by 25 cents

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Due to state budget cuts, the Berkeley Unified School District will stop funding its renowned healthy food program in the upcoming school year.

The district's nutrition services faces a $250,000 to $300,000 shortfall as a result of a $3 million cut in the district's budget this academic year and an additional $4.5 million cut next year, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan.

The program plans to recoup funds by potentially reducing staff, increasing participation and raising prices.

"The board is going to be very careful about (price changes), because we don't want to cut people out of school lunches," Coplan said. "We happen to provide one of the best nutrition programs in the country, and unfortunately it costs a lot of money."

Prices for lunches across Berkeley schools are projected to increase 25 cents, bringing the costs to $3.25 for elementary schools, $3.75 for middle schools and $4.25 for high schools, according to the service's director Ann Cooper, the chef who founded the program in 2007 to combat childhood obesity.

Until this year's potential increase, Berkeley school lunch prices were comparable to those of the Oakland Unified School District, which does not have a similar healthy food program.

"It's not a lot

of money, considering we're serving really high quality-mostly regional, mostly natural and organic, no trans fats," said Cooper, who will move to the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado in June.

Berkeley's program has gained recognition for its free breakfasts for K-8 students and its inclusion of local produce at a relatively low cost to students.

Cooper said the program would be self-sufficient with a 5 percent increase in participation, currently at 50 percent of elementary students and 10 percent of high school students.

"It's always been a plan that the (program) would become budget-neutral, and when we started writing this year's budget, that was the goal," she said.

Cathryn Bruno, president of the Berkeley Parent Teacher Association Council and member of its budget advisory committee, said the program is not in danger of declining in quality or being eliminated, because the district invested significantly in initiating it.

"They've created such a culture, and educated everybody," she said. "My children love it, they eat there maybe once a week."

The association is trying to raise participation by e-mailing parents, and will extend its efforts after Cooper speaks at its meeting this week.

"Chicken nuggets, corn dogs ... that's what they were serving before the new program came into place," Cooper said. "It should be a birthright that every child in America get a decent, healthy meal at school."

Jessica Kwong of The Daily

Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Katie Meyer at [email protected]

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