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Food service cooperation is helping lower costs for milk

WILLMAR -- Milk bids for the Willmar, New London-Spicer and Montevideo schools were slightly lower this year, possibly some of the first financial impacts of a year-long study into school district cooperation in the region.

The superintendents and education representatives in a large area of central and west central Minnesota have discussed ways to work together to save money while maintaining their identities.

The group has surveyed residents in the area and used grants to hire a facilitator to direct their discussions.

Partly as a result of these discussions, the three districts have agreed to share a food service director. Willmar's Food and Nutrition Services Director Annette Derouin, a registered dietitian, will oversee school meals and menus for the three districts.

Derouin discussed the first milk bid for the Willmar School Board on Monday. One bid, from Kemps, was received.

The larger group did result in some savings, she said. The bid was for 1 cent less per carton than Willmar bid last year. The milk price adjusts through the year to follow the federal milk prices during the year.

Derouin it's possible there was only one bidder because of the distance between the three schools. "The other companies may have felt they could not be as competitive," she said.

The food service will continue to offer flavored milk to students at lunchtime only, Derouin said. In the coming year, the flavored milk will have 4 grams less sugar.

The three districts have nearly 7,000 students combined. The districts are among the largest of the 17 school districts involved in the regional study. Willmar has about 4,000 students, NLS has 1,460 students, and Montevideo has 1,350 students.

The three school boards approved the cooperative agreement on food service this spring.

The regional study group's steering committee met earlier this month to develop the top three initiatives for future cooperative efforts. The top three are expanding student opportunities through technology and shared services; shared staff development activities in the region; and a focus on enhanced performance and assessment processes.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard, a member of the steering committee, said he thought districts would find a variety of ways to work together in the future.

"We're still working our way through it," he said.

"We could do something regional in staff development," he said, and his preferences are improving instruction and staff development.

The study group's steering committee will continue to meet in the future, Kjergaard said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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