British Columbia

Parents concerned who will pay for school lunches after Vancouver slashes spending

Parents and teachers at a Vancouver elementary school will take their concerns about school lunch funding to city hall Wednesday after the city slashed its budget for the program in December.

Interim funding sought as city says province should step in

Funding for school lunches at Lord Strathcona Elementary is under dispute as the City of Vancouver says the school board should ask the province to pay. (Google Streetview.)

Parents and teachers at a Vancouver elementary school will take their concerns about school lunch funding to city hall Wednesday after the city quietly slashed its budget for the program in December.

Funding will drop from $320,000 to $160,000 overall for the lunch program but city council is considering a motion to provide one-time funding to maintain the program until the end of the school year.

The Food Services division uses these funds to provide meals to 18 different schools using the Food4School program and a meal delivery program.

In the 2017-18 school year, more than 42,000 meals were delivered — up 22 per cent from the 2015-16 school year.

Program is 'essential'

While the city, the Vancouver School Board and teachers and parents at Lord Strathcona elementary agree that a nutritious meal helps kids' ability to learn, at issue is who should pay for it.

The school's parent advisory council says the "Food4Schools program is essential for students at the school with more than 200 children accessing the free, nutritious lunch each day alongside approximately 150 children whose families can pay."

PAC spokesperson Andrea Glickman says the children are from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, and some who desperately need the program may be shut out if the city decreases funding.

"We were shocked to find out the City had already gone ahead and made the cuts ... without notifying the parent community," she said. 

Interim funding

The city thinks the cost at approximately $8.50 a meal has become too high and that funding should come from the province because it funds school programs. 

Coun. Peter Fry proposed the interim funding. He said that will give the school board seven months to come up with an alternative plan with the province.

He said the number of meals the program provides has fallen as costs have gone up, and the school board should be looking for cheaper options.

"I think it's about getting a reckoning about where that money is going and how that money can be better spent.," he said.

City staff say that other comparable meal programs, including those run through the city, deliver nutritious meals at a lower cost per meal. 

School board chair Janet Fraser said in a statement that staff are reaching out to the city to learn more about its decision, in hopes of having full funding restored. 

Staff are also working on a report about strategies and costs to address students' food program needs, she said.