District feels impact of inflation

Food prices increase to keep choices for students


Photo by and used with the permission of Dmitry Demidko

Inflation has been on the rise due to the pandemic the past few years. This year, the district decided to increase food prices at LZHS instead of reverting to a government funded food program to allow students choice at lunch.

Jane Yu , Digital Editor-in-Chief

This year, the district raised prices on 58 food items due to rising inflation, according to Dr. Dean Romano, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations of District 95. The district was $32,000 in deficit within a half year through December 2021 with the possibility of an overall $76,000 deficit in providing meals at the high school. 

“It is really difficult because [a deficit] means that those dollars have to come out of other programming and other things across the district. And so we had the option of eliminating Jazzman’s and going to that same program that we have at the elementary in the middle school, where there would be free meals,” Romano said. 

According to Kathy Taylor, Food Service Director of District 95, the free meal program or National School Lunch Program, “would mean following the strict guidelines put forth by the USDA.”

“There would be fat, calorie, and sodium restrictions, only whole grain snacks and chips, and no Jazzman’s! In short, the students would not have the variety of daily options that they have now,” Taylor said. 

To adhere to families’ and students’ desires, Romano says, prices were raised from 10-50 cents due to the 20% increase in raw food materials within the last couple of years. In addition, inflation rates have hit an all-time high of 7.5% since 1982, according to CNBC. Energy costs have jumped 27% over a year and food prices have increased by 7%. 

 According to Romano, even the alternatives are becoming more expensive causing the administration to raise prices.

“We took a look at what type of sales we have for different products; what’s most popular? We identified a total of 58 items across all of our items that are offered over the high school and we found that those items have had increases in their raw costs. We also wanted to make sure that the increases in food costs on individual items weren’t so dramatic, that it was reasonable for people to still be able to access that, which is why we looked at moving from a dime to 50 cents per item as kind of the range that we would consider as far as increases [go],” Romano said. “We’ve made the determination that if we made this change, it wouldn’t fix the shortfall. In other words, the school district is still subsidizing meal costs, but it was going to honor what was asked of as far as interest level from students and parents.”

Although about 75% of survey takers responded preference that choice should remain, according to a survey sent out on July 20 by Romano, some students have realized that an increase in 10 cents can have a big impact on their spending even though it may seem like “such a small change,” according to Ysabelle San Diego, freshman.  

“I like to buy milk every day so I either get it from the cafeteria or Jazzman’s since it’s the same thing, 50 cents. [Recently], they added 10 cents [to the price], and I usually get milk every day. So it’s like an extra dollar, let’s say for every two weeks or so. My friends [said] water was a lot more than it was before. They are not extremely mad, but definitely a little thrown off,” San Diego, said. “But I think I like the choices here because you have a wide variety and you can have all types of things every day. It just gives a good change in palette.”

According to San Diego, many of her peers and friends are becoming “more conscious” of buying food at school and have started bringing lunch from home more frequently. Another issue that the district has encountered is the rising number of students choosing to eat off-campus or bringing their own food to school instead of buying from the cafeteria.

“Obviously one of the things that we’re refining is that the participation, in other words, sales, students sales, and purchase of items has been down in comparison to previous years. We know that we do have more people who take advantage of being off-campus at lunch. And so if they’re not there to buy lunch, because they have actually chosen to go off-campus. We don’t have enough sales,” Romano said. “We want to be in a break-even scenario and offer something that folks will want to participate in, use, or access. So we try to make it as enticing as possible.” 

Looking to provide students with new deals, the district is creating new meal plans to attract more students, such as catering, according to Romano. 

“We are currently testing out some new recipes and items that will be rolling out in the near future,” Taylor said. “I would love to hear feedback from [students]! One of the easiest ways is to sign up for MY DTXT, all you need to do is text LZBEARS (all one word) to 82257 and join our messaging list. By signing up, it will also allow me to text you with new and exciting menu items or a short survey on how you liked the item.” 

The past few years have proved to be quite difficult for the budgeting department in the district with inflation and Personal Protection Equipment needed to be supplied for staff and students. However, the administrators hope to continue to provide students with their wants to the best of their abilities during unprecedented times. 

“It was not an easy decision for the administration, the school board, and Sodexo, [a food service company], to make the decision to raise prices, it was just necessary. We have always been sensitive to the students and the families of Lake Zurich by trying to keep pricing low. We really didn’t have much choice but to look at each item, their cost, and daily contribution in determining which items needed an increase,” Taylor said. “It’s our hope that everyone understands the need for these price increases and continues to support the lunch program at LZHS. We need your support more now than ever. If we can’t make the program break even, it could be in jeopardy of returning to the National School Lunch Program.”