To broaden the selection in schools, Jim Malcolm will recommend the district use a third-party vendor.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published May 18, 2004
BROOKSVILLE - School Board member Jim Malcolm is ready to end the Coca-Cola Co.'s exclusive access to Hernando County students and staff members.
Malcolm's recommendation, just three months after the board extended the company's contract for five years, comes as part of a district review of ways to reduce or eliminate sugared, carbonated beverages from school vending machines.
He met with Coca-Cola representatives last week on behalf of the board, and will present his findings today. In a summary memo, Malcolm outlined five options, but said in an interview that only two made sense.
The idea of continuing soda sales carried no weight, Malcolm said, given the past sentiment among board members that the selection must change to more healthy fare. He discounted the idea of a vending partnership or buying from a variety of providers, because each would require the district to hire at least one full-time person to oversee soda and snack machines.
"It is a choice between: We modify the beverage selection for Coca-Cola and suffer the consequences of the loss of commission, or go the way of a third-party vendor," Malcolm explained.
He preferred the third-party vendor, because product selection would broaden beyond one company.
"The thing that really bothers me is the exclusivity of the whole arrangement," Malcolm said. "It hurts our boosters. It hurts our cafeteria people in what they can offer. It just limits, in that we can only deal with their products."
Some sports booster clubs have ignored the contract and purchased sodas and other drinks for resale from less expensive outlets such as Sam's Club. Coca-Cola officials have complained, and Malcolm said they indicated they might push the matter if the district changes its deal with the company.
Crafting a board majority will require some give and take.
Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson, for instance, is not necessarily keen on yanking sodas from the schools.
"You've got to wean them off. You can't go cold turkey," Nicholson said, noting that many students bring their own sodas to school because it's cheaper that way.
But she's willing to go that route if she cannot find a compromise that significantly increases water, juice and other offerings in all vending machines - not just in selected ones around campus.
"That you can only get water in the cafeteria does not cut it," she said.
Board member John Druzbick, meanwhile, was more interested in expanding than limiting choices.
"The ironic thing is, if you look at some of these sports drinks and fruit drinks, they actually have more sugar in them than Coke does," Druzbick said.
He agreed that there were other health and dental issues related to drinking soda, which board member Gail David has repeated at several meetings. At the same time, though, Druzbick noted the revenue aspects that others have been less concerned about.
From 1999 through 2003, the district received $853,012 from Coke, primarily in access fees and vending commissions. If the company pulls its trademark sodas, the amount will be reduced quite a bit, Malcolm said.
The board must decide which is more important - revenue or health - and also might want to look for alternate ways to raise money for the schools, he added. The board is scheduled to discuss soda sales during a workshop that begins at 2 p.m. today.