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Principals pan vending law

FHS junior Chris Murphy checks out the vending selection at the end of the school day.- Dan Barile/farragutpress
Local educators reacted to Tennessee State Sen. Tim Burchett’s proposed vending machine amendment in the same way they would react to sour milk – they threw it out.

Burchett (R-District 7) introduced the bill to ban vending machines from elementary, middle and high schools as an amendment to “Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 23” of the Tennessee Code Annotated, the volumes of laws existing in the state, on Jan. 21.

“We need to draw attention to the health problems we’re having,” Burchett said, “If you look at the majority of our healthcare costs right now … are mainly self-indulgent problems. If you look at TennCare, the payments that we make on that are mainly (a result of) overeating, smoking and other ways of abusing your body. And that’s a big, big problem.”

Burchett said that the reality was that “the average school system receives about $250,000 a year” from the vending trade. He added that the Davidson County Schools system topped out at about $1 million a year.

“We need to put out some options,” he said. “The real ‘catch twenty-two’ is that the inner city schools that need the money the most have higher degrees of the class-two type diabetes.”

Burchett added, “Of course, nutrition supposedly begins at home, but the reality is that kids are in the schoolroom a good portion of the day and we need to address those problems.”

Ed Hedgepeth, principal at Farragut High School, said, “I believe in fairness and parity, and I wouldn’t have any problem with the law if they said at the same time, for example, anyone under the age of eighteen must be accompanied by an adult to be in a fast-food restaurant. If your going to do to us, then let’s make it equitable across the board.”

Hedgepeth concurred, “obesity in America is a problem, and we’re very concerned about it. But, to take one small segment and say ‘this is going to solve the problem,’ I don’t think that is the way to solve the problem.”

Aside from health concerns, Farragut High School stands to lose what is estimated to be $40,000 a year in revenue generated by the school’s vending machines if the Burchett amendment is passed.

Hedgepeth said that $40,000 is a sizable amount of money to lose, especially in times where money is tight.

“The money is an important revenue source for us,” he said, “and every bit of it we turn right around and put back into the area of instruction for materials and supplies that Knox County does not supply.”

Richard Dalhaus, principal at Farragut Middle School, concurred with Hedgepeth in that the vending machine revenue was an important addition to the school’s funds. He said FMS generates about $7,000 for its vending machines and jokingly added that it would be nice if Hedgepeth would share some of FHS’s $40,000.

Dalhaus said when he first arrived at FMS he thought: “These vending machines, boy, I’d love to get them out because I have them sprinkled all around the school. I’d love to pull or get them in one place because the kids are into them all the time.

“Then I found out that we’re running six-to-seven thousand dollars and we make about thirty-five hundred dollars in profit from those things that we use for a lot of things - copy paper, maintenance contracts, extra things for teachers, tech supplies – so, I decided I was just going to sit on it for awhile because it does generate income. I have mixed feelings about it.”

Hedgepeth and Dalhaus both said that the machines in their schools had fruit juices and water, in addition to the regular “snack” foods. Hedgepeth added that the contents of FHS’s vending machines were left to the discrimination of the principal.

“I have the final decision as to what goes in the machines,” he said.

“The reality is that the bill won’t go anywhere because of the money,” Burchett said. “It’s not a health issue, it’s a money issue. It’s a short-term money fix, but in the long run those health costs are eating our state budget. … During the school day kids aren’t going to eat at fast-food restaurants and it’s our responsibility. After that it’s parental responsibility.”

The bill had passed first and second considerations and is presently in the Senate Education Committee. The committee is chaired by Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, and members include Sens. Roscoe Dixon, Charlotte Burks, Ben Atchley of West Knoxville, Ward Crutchfield, Rusty Crowe, Jo Ann Graves, Bill Ketron and Larry Trail.

The Senate Education Committee is responsible for legislation concerning schools and secondary education; school employees, administrators, teachers and bus drivers; school employees’ and teachers’ pay and retirement, except where an appropriation of state funds is required; colleges and universities; employees of colleges and universities, including pay and retirement, except where state appropriation funds are required; vocational technical education; employees of vocational education; college or university agricultural extension service; school lunch program; education and schools for exceptional children; cultural affairs; museums; and state and public libraries.

A similar bill was introduced into the state house by Rep. Bill Dunn (R-District 16) of Knoxville on Jan. 28. That bill has passed first consideration.

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