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Shared tests are still years away, but shared ingredients are here

It isn’t only Common Core-aligned curriculum materials that have large school districts harnessing their purchasing power. They’re also working together to curb rising food costs.

New York City is one of six large districts to join in a new partnership called the Urban School Food Alliance, announced today. The districts will work together to buy some ingredients in bulk to cut costs and make serving healthy food an affordable option.

New York City spent $114 million in the 2009-2010 school year. When Comptroller John Liu scrutinized the spending, he found that the department was paying more than the real cost for 76 kinds of foods, including vegetables and herbs.

The city buys about 15 percent of its school food supplies from local vendors, meaning that the vast majority of ingredients flooding into local school cafeterias comes from vendors outside the city that likely supply other districts with ingredients as well. That is where the bulk purchases could net savings, although a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Marge Feinberg, said it was “premature” to speculate about how much the city would save.

Together, the districts spend more than $530 million a year on food, according to a press release about the alliance. To show their commitment to pooling resources, the six districts all served the same lunch today: roasted chicken, brown rice with seasoned black beans, steamed broccoli, fresh fruit, and milk. According to the press release, the menu selection reflects the most popular dishes across the cities.

Feinberg said the partnership would not impede individual schools from tailoring their menus to taste.

“This meal is symbolic of our new alliance with the other major urban school districts,” she said. “We will continue to offer options at schools.”

The other cities with school districts in the partnership are Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando. New York’s daily tally of 860,000 meals served represents 30 percent of the total served by the districts.

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