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    Board backs $50-million Pepsi deal

    By RYAN MEEHAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002

    TAMPA -- School Board members Tuesday night authorized administrators to finish negotiating a $50-million contract with Pepsi that would give the soft-drink giant exclusive access to Hillsborough schoolchildren.

    If approved, the contract will mean $7-million up front for the Hillsborough school district, with the remainder being paid over the next 12 years.

    Hillsborough schools now contract individually with vendors and receive a commission that ranges from 15 percent to 40 percent of sales. Under the new proposal, all schools would reap 40 percent of the sales.

    A few School Board members questioned whether the district should tie itself to such a lengthy contract.

    "There are lots of unanswered questions," said School Board member Carol Kurdell. "This ties us into somebody for 12 years. I have some serious reservations about that."

    But Kurdell went along with the unanimous vote to proceed with the negotiations.

    The proposal calls for the Pepsi Bottling Group to establish a $1.3-million scholarship fund that would be distributed to Hillsborough students during the duration of the contract.

    The deal also means free computer equipment for the 15 schools that score highest every year on standardized exams such as the FCAT and the SAT.

    Not everyone was impressed with Pepsi's largesse. Melissa Hernandez, a substitute teacher, said the contract would turn students into walking advertisements.

    "I think it's a poor idea to exploit our children for profit," Hernandez said. "If we continue at this pace, we'll be serving Budweiser to our children because it turns a profit."

    Some opponents also complained that soft drinks are an unhealthy product for the school system to endorse.

    Superintendent Earl Lennard said soda is not the only product that will be available. Vending machines will include water, juice and sports drinks.

    If the contract is approved, individual schools bound to another vendor would have to finish their agreement before becoming Pepsi-exclusive.

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