The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 8, 2000 - Tuesday - SFCITY EDITION

School Board Scuttles Deal With Coke
Some members said selling the drinks in schools was a bad idea. Others wanted a more lucrative arrangement.

By Susan Snyder
Inquirer Staff Writer

The Philadelphia School District's proposed exclusive beverage-rights deal with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. is "dead," School Board President Pedro Ramos said yesterday.

Citing concerns about the nutritional content of Coca-Cola products, some board members opposed the deal, which would have placed vending machines in the district's 170 elementary schools and increased sales of company products in other schools.

Other board members suggested the district could get a better financial deal, he said.

Coca-Cola, Ramos said, called its proposal "take-it-or-leave-it."

The opposition was enough to sink the deal in its present form, and Ramos said during yesterday's meeting that "the board has no plan at this point to move forward with the adoption of the proposal."

After the meeting, he said: "It's dead."

In other business, the board voted 7-2 to table a request from Superintendent David Hornbeck to increase the pay of top administrators and other nonunionized personnel by 3 percent retroactive to September. The board also hired a company to investigate the district's computerized-payroll problems.

Ramos' comments follow a report from the City Controller's Office last month that the proposed beverage contract would have brought in too little money for the district, compared with similar contracts elsewhere.

Coca-Cola officials did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

The proposed 10-year contract would have brought in $23 million more than the district otherwise would have earned in beverage sales, according to officials. At $43 million, it would have been one of the largest such deals between a beverage provider and a school district in the country, according to industry experts.

The number of vending machines in city school buildings would have doubled to more than 1,300.

School officials have said they would have sold fruit drinks, juices and water but not soda in elementary machines. Company product lines include Minute Maid, Fruitopia and Dasani.

Board members have said they heard concerns from the public about the nutritional value of Coca-Cola products and whether it was sound policy to promote their sale.

At yesterday's meeting, Pat Albright, a parent of a third grader at Henry School, said the contract proposal "threatens what remains of the separation between public education and corporate interests and undermines our children's health."

She said that even if carbonated beverages were not sold in elementary schools, she objected to having Coca-Cola advertising there. She said she opposed sending a message that "it's OK, even desirable, to drink sodas."

Ramos said a vending contract might be discussed further at a health committee meeting.

Board member Jacques Lurie said the matter was worth more consideration.

"We should look at 100 percent juice machines at the elementary schools," he said.

Board member Michael Karp said the district should consider buying non-brand-name soda and drinks for schools, which he said could save as much money as the district would have received under the beverage contract.

On the proposed raises, Ramos, Lurie, Karp, Christine James-Brown, Deborah Parks, Ernest Jones and Helen Cunningham voted to table the request, and Vice President Dorothy Sumners Rush and Andrew Farnese voted against a delay.

It was the second time in three months that Hornbeck had tried to win support for the raises. He withdrew the request in November when he couldn't get the votes.

Under Hornbeck's proposal, the raises would have gone to 519 employees, including confidential secretaries, clerks, and Hornbeck's cabinet of approximately 45 members, which includes leaders of the district's 22 clusters. Current salaries for those jobs range from about $15,000 to about $120,000, earned by the managing director. Hornbeck, who earns $167,000, was not included.

Lurie and Karp said they would consider the raises if Hornbeck could suggest other administrative cuts to make up the cost.

Ramos said he wants to reconsider the district's practice of tying pay increases for nonunion workers to those of union workers. He also questioned whether the nonunionized workers, whose job responsibilities vary widely, should be lumped together.

Hornbeck disagreed with the board's decision.

"I think it's a mistake to send the message that if you're nonunionized, you are at a disadvantage," he said. "These people are doing a great job for us."

Also, the board voted 8-1 to spend up to $52,800 to hire RAM Technologies Inc. to perform a "root cause analysis" of the district's implementation of the Advantage payroll system.

The firm will report on whether the system can meet the district's needs.

The decision comes in response to court complaints filed by district unions.

The transition to the district's new $26 million payroll, purchasing and human-resources system has caused some employees to go without paychecks and others to receive incorrect amounts.

Union officials say thousands of workers have been affected; the district says the problem is not that widespread.

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