June 10th, 2008

Schools Consider Deal With Coke

By Darren Bernhardt
The StarPhoenix (Canada)

Students at Saskatoon’s new west-side high schools could soon be walking the Coca-Cola Corridor and sipping drinks purchased from machines exclusively carrying Coke products.

A proposal is being considered by both school divisions as well as the City of Saskatoon to enter into a contract that would give the soft drink giant “pouring rights,” making it the sole supplier of “all cold beverage products” within Bethlehem High School, Tommy Douglas Collegiate and the civic leisure facility situated between them. The deal would also give Coke the naming rights to a corridor linking the schools to the adjoining facility, itself a corporately-named entity known as the Shaw Centre.

“There will be some very strong discussion on this at the boards level. It will be a lively one,” said Jim Carriere, chair of the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board of education.

The board is being asked to make a decision on the proposal during its regular meeting this evening. Carriere was out of town for a few days and hadn’t yet read the agenda. He would not comment on any specifics of the recommendation but in general, school boards are increasingly looking for corporate sponsorships to counter growing expenses, he said.

“We need to be creative in exploring partnerships/financial opportunities that would benefit the division,” he said. “We are always looking for those opportunities if they fit in with the general principles of Catholic education.”

How an exclusive deal with Coke conforms with Catholic pedagogy will be debated today.

“We will have to discuss what’s in it for them and what’s in it for us,” said Carriere.

The pouring and naming rights “will help generate a financial return to help offset capital construction costs and provide operating funds for annual programs and services,” states the formal agreement being presented to the board.

Administrators in the division would not comment on the matter before trustees had an opportunity to talk about it at the table, said spokesperson Donella Hoffman.

“We don’t want to give out more information to the media than the trustees know,” she said.

The public schools’ board of education is also meeting today but the Coke contract is not on the agenda, said spokesperson Joy Adams Bauer.

“I imagine the board would like to be making a decision on it soon, though. The last meeting before the end of the school year is June 24.”

The city’s executive committee will make a decision on the matter at its next meeting on Monday. For the deal to pass, all three partners must approve it, said Sandi Schultz, integrated site manager for the city’s leisure services department. If it fails with one organization, it fails for all.

Should it pass, the city would receive the annual payment from Coke as well as a vending commission, then reimburse the partners at a predetermined cost share. Neither the total value of the deal nor the amount each partner would receive was disclosed.

The Saskatoon Food Coalition (SFC) has created a form letter, made available to its member organizations, that “strongly urges” the city and school boards to consider the social and health-related implications of providing monopoly rights to a soft drink corporation. A copy of the letter, signed by one of its members, was included in the public school board agenda and the correspondence section of city council’s agenda package.

“It is inappropriate . . . to be endangering the health of children and encouraging them to develop brand loyalty in order to raise money for school needs,” the letter states, further urging the city and school boards to ensure the content of vending machines “reflects the human right of access to nutritious, affordable and safe food.”

The SFC membership includes CHEP, the Saskatoon Health Region, Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, Oxfam, Saskatoon Friendship Inn, United Way, National Farmers Union, Quint Development Corporation and Saskatoon Food Bank.

Mayor Don Atchison believes the opposition is overlooking the fact that not all Coke beverages are made of sugar and syrup.

“They have nutritional products as well. There’s more than just soft drinks,” he said.

Several student protests were held at schools around the city in the early part of the decade when the controversy over exclusivity contracts peaked in Saskatoon. Since then things have been quiet. That may be because it’s not such a foreign concept anymore, making it more accepted.

Many civic facilities already have similar agreements, noted Atchison. Credit Union Centre, TCU Place and Holiday Park Golf Course sell only Pepsi-Cola drinks. Over at Prairieland Park, the taps pour out all things Coke. Even the city’s soccer centres have exclusivity contracts with Coke or Pepsi.

If the current proposal is accepted, the vending machines would be programmed to not dispense carbonated drinks between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during weekdays, said Schultz.

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