It was a lunch that would horrify a dietitian: a bag of Tropical Skittles, a Jones soda, two Little Debbie marshmallow treats, a deep-fried pizza stick and a bottle of sweetened iced tea.There's an important lesson in there.
Even though the Seattle School District does not sell sugary sodas in its vending machines, students find other ways to get junk food. Latanya Lucas, 15, goes to a fast-food restaurant near West Seattle High School to get a Sprite at lunchtime.
The high-calorie, sugar-packed treats are standard fare for Cleveland High School freshman Tikisha Spires, who travels off campus for lunch each day.
It's certainly not what the Seattle School Board had in mind two years ago when it adopted a rigorous nutrition policy and canceled a lucrative vending contract with Coca-Cola. Chips and cookies were replaced in vending machines with granola bars and trail mix; sugary drinks are no longer sold in schools. Cleveland fell into line with other schools, offering healthier foods in its cafeteria and vending machines.
Teens such as Tikisha fell into line, too -- out the door to find their junk food off campus.
"Our health teacher tells us about nutrition, but we sit in her class and eat what we want," Tikisha said.
The district had little luck persuading kids to change what they eat, but did manage to slash an important source of revenue that has forced some schools to cut student newspapers, cancel annual events and end other popular activities.
Here's why: The policy meant to discourage students from eating junk food has instead driven student business to the grocery stores and fast-food joints near the city's high schools.
That in turn led to a significant drop in revenue for middle and high schools, which in recent years have relied heavily on money from vending-machine sales to supplement their budgets for student-body activities.
District officials still are trying to determine the total financial impact, but say it's about $103,000 a year for the district's 10 comprehensive high schools -- not including the $190,000 payment the district received and passed on to schools as a bonus for allowing Coca-Cola exclusive access to sell beverages to students.
In all, the district had received about $340,000 a year from the Coca-Cola contract, according to district documents.
At most schools, the money had paid for academic club events, school newspaper and yearbook production, school dances, transportation to athletic events and other activities.
Some high schools coped this year by raising fees for Associated Student Body cards or holding fundraisers. But not all schools can raise enough money, and some have pleaded with district officials to help make up some of the shortfall.
School Board member Michael DeBell, chairman of the board's finance committee, said he supports the nutrition policy but was troubled when representatives from several of the city's high schools reported they were hurting financially.
"They thought they might have to drop spring sports or cancel events," he said. "That's kind of when the red flag went up." [...]