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Back to normal for the Panel for Educational Policy

After the first meeting of the citywide school board packed Tweed last month, it was a return to normal last night, as the board unanimously approved all of the contracts up for discussion before a thinly-populated crowd.

The main items of interest for the panel were the new contracts for the city schools’ vending machine suppliers. The vending contracts have received much attention in recent days because they are part of the education department’s initiative to get healthier foods into the schools, efforts that have also included restrictions on school bake sales. The contracts are also being closely scrutinized because they replace the city’s controversial no-bid contract with Snapple, which expired in August.

The panel approved the vending contracts as part of an omnibus vote that also included approval of more than 30 contracts in all, including agreements with a number of special education service and teacher professional development service providers, as well as a centralized source for schools to purchase discounted performing arts event tickets.

The contracts were widely expected to be approved, but the meeting did offer a few interesting tidbits:

  • DOE officials said that they hoped that the vending contracts will drive soft drink and snack vendors to develop healthier products. “We’d like to help create the new normal,” said David Ross of the the department’s Division of Contracts and Purchasing. Education department spokesman Will Havemann said that goal was still aspirational, and that the final lists of drinks and snacks that will be vended in the machines is still being finalized. The contract nutritional guidelines, which were endorsed by a representative from the city health department last night, allow only low-calorie, naturally-sweetened, and either caffeine-free or non-carbonated beverages.
  • Examples of snack foods that meet the education department’s nutritional guidelines include: reduced fat Triscuits; Baked Lay’s or Ruffles potato chips; Quaker “chewy 25% less sugar” chocolate chip granola bars; a variety of Nature’s Valley granola bar flavors; a variety of Del Monte canned fruit in 100% juice; General Mills Cheerios and Total Whole Wheat cereals; as well as more simple offerings like medium-sized apples or small- and medium-sized bananas. At the meeting, critics of the new bake sale regulations charged that prohibiting the sale of home-baked goods gives the corporate vendors of these snacks a monopoly in the school buildings.
  • In business unrelated to the new snack vending contracts, Chancellor Joel Klein announced that the long-awaited RAND Corporation study on the performance of third and fifth graders affected by Mayor Bloomberg’s change in promotion policy will be released on October 15. The panel will have time to review the study’s conclusions before voting on the new proposal to expand his retention policies to all tested grades, the Chancellor said.
  • And a group of varsity girls soccer players and their coaches came to the meeting to protest the education department’s decision to switch the girls’ soccer season from the spring to the fall. Teams have reported trouble mustering full teams because of schedule conflicts resulting from the switch, but the players reported more troubles as well: the girls’ teams now have to share limited field space with the boys’ teams, which creates schedule challenges that necessitate playing games on weekends and booking double- and triple-header games. Those scheduling challenges, in turn, are leading to exhaustion and injury for the players, they said. The playing schedule switch happened as a result of a deal brokered between the DOE and the New York Civil Liberties Union in January. The NYCLU had threatened the education department with a lawsuit unless they made the switch, arguing that moving the soccer season to the fall allowed female players to play on travel teams in the spring, as male players frequently do, and thus equalize their access to college soccer recruiters.

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