The following articleappeared in The Yellow Press, an entirely student-run newspaperpublished by Yellow Enterprises, Inc., a student-founded corporation, anddistributed at five Madison, Wis., high schools.
By Benjamin Wikler and RebeccaDilley
The Yellow Press
This summer, the school boardsigned a contract with the Coca-Cola corporation exchanging exclusive monopolyrights and marketing opportunities for $615,000 and 40% of sales revenues,which officials estimate could generate up to $1.4 million. In a schooldistrict so strapped for funds, this money sounds great. With public funds forpublic education running short, is business finally shouldering its share ofthe burden?
No. The Coca-Cola Corporation isnot a charity. Besides giving Coca-Cola access to a captive audience of kidsand teachers (none of whom had any say in the deal), the three-year contractwill open the door to future corporate influence in our schools. The deal ispart of a continent-wide campaign that has caused student outrage at Universityof Pennsylvania, in the Twin Cities, and in British Columbia.
The deal works like this: theSchool Board gets $100,000 up front for monopoly privileges — that’s the onlymoney that really comes from Coca-Cola. The next $515,000 is an advance onmoney that has come, in effect, from our pockets, in the form of soda sales. Tomake the hoped-for $1.4 million, high school and middle students around Madisonwould have to buy $3.5 million worth of soda — again, the district only keeps40% of it. That amounts to every one of the approximately 13,000 high schooland middle school students in the district buying a 50-cent can of soda inschool every single day for the next three years. That’s $270 per kid.Ultimately, the deal joins the school district and Coca-Cola in an attempt totake our money.
But, where does that money go? Theschool board has not released plans yet, but we do know that many havepressured the board to use the money for property tax relief; even if thisdoesn’t happen directly, taxpayers will begin to see private corporations as asuitable alternative to public school funding — damn the consequences. If thiscomes to pass, the money we spend (and the deal) will not benefit us at all.The biggest winners will be Coca-Cola and owners of expensive property (such asthe out-of-town owners of East and West Towne Malls, who covertly fundedopposition to a tax referendum that would have given support to Madisonschools).
Furthermore, this deal gives aprivate, profit-oriented corporation a stake in our school district. Despitethe school board’s promise to monitor corporate influence, we will come to relyon Coke’s money once other funding sources have shriveled up; our need forCoke’s support to sustain our budget will give it a great deal of leverage: ifCoke threatens to pull its money out, we may be forced to make concessions inorder to keep the budget from developing a sudden hole. Attending a publicschool financed by taxpayers to give us a rounded, unbiased education is anhonored right; we cannot allow Coke, or any corporation, to potentiallycompromise that integrity.
The Coke deal may seem like asmall step, but it’s a step onto a slippery slope. Luckily, there may still beways to catch our footing before we reach the bottom. The contract may bedeclared void if MTI can win a case showing that the contract willsignificantly change teachers’ working environment. Even if that fails, we canpressure the school board to closely monitor Coke’s influence around the city.Join the Yellow Press in its fight to subdue corporate influence. Call608-238-5248 and leave a message with your name, phone number and the fact thatyou’re willing to help, or talk to any Yellow Press editor in person. We’llwork with students from other schools, teachers, and community activists inorder to keep our public institutions free of corporate influence.
One final point. Schools teach kidsin two ways: they tell us how to act, and they show us how to act. Whatdoes the Coca-Cola deal teach us? That Coke is better than Pepsi? That spending$270 on caffeinated sugar water is a wise and healthful decision? Or that aninstitution of learning will endorse products according to the highest bid,regardless of the merit of the brand or the product? The school board wouldfrown on these ideas if a teacher pushed them in a classroom. But, by theiractions, the MMSD endorses them. The Coke contract may seem like a sweet deal —free money! — but it leaves us with a sour taste.
You can reach Ben Wikler and the Yellow Press in thefollowing ways:
Ben Wikler, 2440 Commonwealth Ave., Madison, WI 53711;ph: 608-231-3989; fax: 608-231-0646 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Yellow Press, PO Box 5083, Madison, WI 53705.