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School district joins national food buying group

By Staff | Jun 3, 2009

The Lee County School District approved a motion Tuesday night to enter the P.O.W.E.R. Buying Group, a national food distributor, for a cost of $5 million per year.
Wayne Nagy, director of Food Services, said joining the buying group has resulted in cost savings for the district. In 2009 the food department spent $10.8 million on purchasing food and $13.2 million on labor costs.
Now, the school district will be able to purchase food at 2004 prices, the same year that Lee County schools joined the buying group.
“There is a dramatic drop the year we joined and we started increasing again from a lower level,” said Nagy. “We are buying food this year at 2004 prices.”
School districts throughout the state make up the group, which purchases food collectively. So far the group includes 37 districts and its buying power is valued at $150 million, according to P.O.W.E.R. Buying.
Nagy also explained that the Food Services department was able to rebound from a deficit of $2.1 million in 2006-07 to earning $890,406 this school year.
“We were able to do it with changes to our labor allocations, scheduling and we are serving children better today than we did three years ago,” he said.
The Food Services department also announced some changes in 2010. First, all schools will provide breakfast to students because of the proven academic and behavioral benefits of children eating a nutritious breakfast.
Also, lunches in the school district will increase by 5 cents — an initiative approved by the school board two years ago. According to Nagy, the extra nickel is to counteract rising prices in food nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted a 3.5 percent increase in food prices this year. Prices can be affected by the price of labor, natural disasters or weather that could hurt crops or production and the price of gasoline or oil to transport food.
Some districts across the state did not want to join the buying group including Dade and Broward counties, said Nagy, but both counties subsequently joined.
“The P.O.W.E.R. Buying Group was frowned upon by larger districts because they are so large they didn’t feel like they needed to be part of this group,” he said.
Today, the group overtook the New York City school system as the largest food-based collective buying group.
Members of the Lee County School Board were pleased with the efforts of Nagy and the Food Service Department, and they pointed out that the department was included in the state’s Sterling Award Showcase.
“It is always a pleasure to see we can provide our students with the healthy food that you incorporated,” said Vice Chairman Steve Teuber.
“It would be wonderful if you could write a book about it. A lot of people would love to know what your secret is as they try to struggle with their budgets,” said Board member Elinor Scricca.