Schools typically operate their food service programs as a business-like service, relying on sales of food to cover their expenses.[3] In addition, most districts participate in the National School Lunch Program run by the United States Department of Agriculture, which dictates the nutritional content of meals it sponsors.[4] The NSLP also provides subsidies to districts on behalf of low-income students so that these students can receive free or reduced-price lunches, in addition to other support.[5]

Districts cannot use any gains generated by their food service programs to supplement their general expenditures.[6] In other words, administrators can’t take money out of the cafeteria to fund the classroom. Districts that have lost money on their food services have looked to see whether private companies can help them break even.

Food service was the most frequently contracted service in 2003 but has not increased as much as transportation or custodial services. Food contracting remained at 43.3 percent of districts for 2016 and 2017. Two new districts contracted out services, but two districts brought services back in house.

Graphic 2: Food Service Contracting, 2003, 2005-2017

Graphic 2: Food Service Contracting, 2003, 2005-2017 - click to enlarge

*Data were not collected in 2004.

Graphic 3: Districts With New Food Services Contracts

Ewen-Trout Creek School District
Spring Lake Public Schools

Spring Lake Public Schools contracted out their food service after running deficits for a number of years and officials hope to break even now. The Ewen-Trout Creek School District began using their employee-leasing agency to provide a food service worker this year and expects to save $4,800 from the move.

Cass City Public Schools had leased out for one food worker, but the employee will not be returning in the fall. The outsourced food service director of Homer Community Schools retired and the district sought to hire and employ a director themselves.


[3] “Food Service: Administrative Policy No. 17” (Michigan Department of Education, April 7, 2015), https://perma.cc/WM8U-STG6.

[4] “Nutrition Standards for School Meals” (United States Department of Agriculture, Aug. 8, 2017), https://perma.cc/8F33-2U5Z.

[5] “Nutrition Standards for School Meals” (United States Department of Agriculture, Aug. 8, 2017), https://perma.cc/8F33-2U5Z; “Food Distribution Programs” (Michigan Department of Education, 2017), https://perma.cc/QQ7P-BT9U.

[6] “Food Service: Administrative Policy No. 17” (Michigan Department of Education, Apr. 7, 2015), https://perma.cc/WM8U-STG6.