On September 1, the City of Tallinn increased its school lunch subsidy by 22 cents to €1.56 per lunch, although school boards themselves had sought an even higher increase three years ago already. Caterers find that the new sum is insufficient, as in a matter of months, inflation has already swallowed the difference.
At the school cafeteria on Wednesday, students at Gustav Adolf High School could choose between pork and vegetable stew, curry chicken gravy and lentils with tomato and curry, with a side of buckwheat and fresh salad. One meal costs the caterer €1.56, which also needs to cover employee wages as well as all other expenses incurred.
The school's caterer, Baltic Restaurants, which operates under the Daily brand, is one of the biggest school catering companies in the country, managing 77 school cafeterias, including around 10 in the Estonian capital. The company admits that the situation is difficult, and that getting by demands smart savings.
"When input prices get more expensive, it's not like we can increase the price," said Baltic Restaurants managing director Aaro Lode. "When energy prices go up and all foodstuffs get more expensive, then that's all coming at the expense of our internal resources. As we have strong principles, can't sacrifice quality and can't sacrifice wages either, then I suppose we'll have to seek savings on development and other activities."
Currently, school lunch rates vary significantly by local government, depending on both the local government's budget as well as political will. Caterers believe the system needs to be changed, for the sake of both stability and increasing quality.
"The price of school meals should be indexed nationally, the way pensions are indexed, kindergarten fees are indexed — the way MPs' salaries are indexed," Lode said. "School meals should be indexed the same way. Because going and explaining every year that inputs have increased this much now, that school meals might get this much more expensive — that's actually nonsense."
Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vadim Belobrovtsev (Center) said that €1.56 was a compromise reached with school representatives and caterers, despite the fact that the proposal had been to increase the subsidy by even more.
"It may just sound like it went up by a few more cents, but actually this increase for the last four months of the year means an additional €700,000 from the city budget, and if we're talking about one year, then that increase is more than €2 million," Belobrovtsev said.
The city is to begin discussing its 2023 budget this fall, and the deputy mayor won't rule out the possibility that the subsidy will be further increased then. The City of Tallinn refuses, however, to weigh the possibility of implementing families' own contributions, i.e. families paying for part of school lunch fees, as is the case in Tartu and many other local governments.
School lunches are free of charge to all primary and secondary school students in Tallinn.
Editor: Aili Vahtla