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01-26-04: Controversy bubbles up over drinks at area schools


Soft drinks are a staple in many kids’ diets and the American Academy of Prediatrics recently has called for schools to take another look at what is being sold in vending machines.
But it’s a double-edged sword for school officials as soft drink companies offer substantial up-front or long-term money and incentives for exclusive rights to distribute their products within the school.
Soda vending machines in schools are now regulated so pop is not available during certain times of the day, and state law prohibits locating the machines inside the cafeteria.
Local school officials say while pop machines are certainly a presence, kids are opting more and more for bottled water, fruit drinks and sports drinks.
The St. Marys school district has a 10-year contract with Pepsi until 2011, which will bring in about $600,000 over the decade.
As long as St. Marys keeps the Pepsi machines in the school, Pepsi will give the school merchandise such as coolers, towels, discount coupons, advertising incentives, two scholarships and $30,000 cash each year plus a one-time $20,000 for a scoreboard and $5,000 for electrical wiring, according to St. Marys district business manager Kurt Kuffner.
Undeniably good for the bottom line as Ohio schools struggle for every dime following state budget cuts.
“As a parent, sure, I’m concerned that kids get nutritious meals and drinks. And, we do offer other drink choices,” Kuffner added.
St. Henry district is another Pepsi-contract school offering choices.
St. Henry’s contract is similar to St. Marys’ but on a lesser scale. It includes one scholarship and a $15,000 annual payment during the 10-year contract, which is based on district size.
St. Henry Athletic Director Tim Boeckman said, like at other schools, access to soft drinks is limited.
“Based on what the (Pepsi) route driver brings us, kids are drinking a lot more (bottled) water and Gatorade,” Boeckman said.
And, there’s yet one more option on the rise.
Got milk?
Mercer County schools say “yes we do” thanks to $2,000 worth of grants last year from the American Dairy Association and Land O’ Lakes/Mercer Landmark.
“The dairy association offers $1,000 to schools to install milk vending machines, and we do a 100 percent match, making it $2,000,” said John Wenning, dairy nutritionist for Land O’ Lakes/Mercer Landmark in Coldwater.
Additional funding for the $4,300 machines has come from individual Young Farmers associations and other local agricultural organizations.
“There are dozens of milk flavors and schools choose whatever, although some flavors cost more. Chocolate, strawberry and Oreo cookie chocolate are the most popular right now,” Wenning said.
St. Henry’s student advisory panel nixed the cookies and cream flavor as too costly at $1.50 a bottle, Superintendent Rod Moorman said.
“We rely on our students panel for cafeteria input, and they have made a lot of good decisions. They came up with a lot of our a la carte foods, like the potato bar, pasta bar and salad bar,” he said.
Celina City Schools opted not to go with a Pepsi contract, although there are four Pepsi machines, a juice machine, a machine with fruit and sandwiches and a milk machine at the high school.
“We sell Pepsi (16-ounce bottles) for a buck, and we buy it at a good price. Yes, we make a little money, as we can,” Celina’s business manager Mike McKirnan said.
From McKirnan’s experience with food and drinks for students, it all comes down to what they like and will eat.
“Several years ago when the state said ‘cut fat,’ we did. I remember they sent us four pallets of peas,” McKirnan said. “No kid likes peas. But we served them peas anyway, even put them in salads, but kids won’t eat peas. ... Kids who don’t like milk won’t drink it. Kids who like soft drinks will find a way to get them.”


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