The Brick Township Board of Education didn’t vote Thursday night on what is usually one of the more mundane rituals at the start of a new school year: choosing the provider of milk for students.
Part of the reason is because school districts, including Brick, don’t have much of a choice when it comes to picking a vendor. Year after year, only one company submits a bid on the milk contract, and this year the price has been raised by five cents per pint.
“Bidders are getting very territorial,” said Business Administrator James Edwards, who said that while no evidence of collusion between vendors has been unearthed, many school districts are facing a similar issue. About ten years ago, he said, there was a similar problem with school bus companies. In that case, evidence was eventually obtained by authorities and contractors went to jail.
Last year’s milk contract in Brick was awarded to Cream-O-Land Dairies of Florence, Burlington County, for $227,920. Just like this year, Cream-O-Land was the district’s sole bidder. The companies escape deeper scrutiny, Board of Education member Larry Reid said, because of their initial investment in the districts they serve.
“They get around it on the milk [contract] because they put milk cooling refrigerators at each school, and since they provide it, they say another vendor won’t want to come in and replace all the coolers,” said Reid.
The higher priced milk this year would have cost taxpayers an extra $25,000, a price too high for comfort for board members, so the new contract was delayed as negotiations continue on potentially modifying the district’s delivery schedule. Reid said Brick is one of the few districts that receives daily deliveries of milk rather than receiving them twice a week. Moving to a twice-per-week delivery schedule, he said, could cushion the blow of the higher milk price.
There won’t be any shortages of milk the first week of school, district officials assured parents. Individual purchase orders for milk under the old contract will continue until a new one is passed at a future meeting.