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School Board may drop out of food co-op

April 21, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education may drop out of a cooperative formed to make school food supplies cheaper.

The School Board discussed leaving the cooperative after discovering only half the state's school jurisdictions have agreed to participate.

"That raised some question marks in our mind," said School Board President Edwin Hayes.

At the board's direction, Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. signed an agreement to join the cooperative eight months ago.

Maryland's 24 jurisdictions were expected to participate, but 12 counties have joined, cutting the cooperative's collective buying power.

"It has changed significantly enough so that I'm not sure the cooperative will be an advantage to Washington County," Director of School Food Services Donald Trumble told the School Board on Tuesday.

"You might want to reconsider the whole thing."

Food service administrators for schools across the state formed the cooperative to enable public school systems to jointly request and award bids for purchasing and distributing supplies for meal programs.

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The larger volume was supposed to yield lower costs for each school system, but the state's larger jurisdictions such as Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties did not join.

"They think they are large enough to get the best prices on an individual basis," Trumble said.

An addendum to the original agreement specifies that the cooperative will select a participating jurisdiction to act as the lead agent to handle bids, purchasing and bid protests for the cooperative.

If the School Board does not sign the addendum, the original agreement will become invalid and it will be released from the cooperative.

Leadership of the coalition rotates among the members. Charles County is this year's leader and bids were opened Tuesday. No bids have been awarded, but Trumble said Wednesday they appear favorable.

The bid is complex, and a complete financial analysis was not yet available, he said. For example, distributors can choose to deliver to one region of the state only but preference will be given to those that agree to serve all 12 areas.

Trumble said another concern is the relative isolation of Western Maryland, where Washington and Allegany counties are the only jurisdictions participating.

If the distributor who wins the bid is in a distant location such as the Eastern Shore, mistakes in a weekly shipment could be a problem, Trumble said. School menus are planned in advance.

The School Board's Food Services Department has a separate budget because it raises its own revenue. Trumble said the department's annual budget is about $4.5 million.

The School Board is to vote on the addendum May 4. A decision on whether to remain in the cooperative may depend on how much savings the bids yield.

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