EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - As students in School District 49 went back to school Wednesday from winter break, they noticed a change in their lunch menu: no more free bottled water.
"I've seen the school lunch programs go backwards over the last 10 years. This is another hit," said Eric Boerendonk, a parent.
If a student at D-49 wants bottled water at lunch, it's no longer free. They'll now have to pay $1.50.
"That's ridiculous. I can stand outside the school and sell it for much cheaper than that but I shouldn't have to," Boerendonk said.
D-49, along with several other districts in the Pikes Peak region, have a contract with Coca-Cola. They used to allow districts to purchase all their drinks from them and water from a different vendor at a lower cost, but not anymore.
"Recent changes with the local vendor and how the contract is being administered caused an increase in the price of water," said Matt Meister, District 49 director of communications.
KRDO price checked a 24 pack of Coca-Cola brand Dasani water. It costs $5.49 for a 24 pack at a local grocery store, which is equivalent to 22 cents a bottle. However, the $1.50 per-bottle price is equivalent to a case going for $36.
Many are left wondering; where is this money going?
"That goes to buy better quality meats, less processed foods, high-quality meals that gets them set for learning in the classroom," Meister said.
Meister says excess funding will stay in the nutrition services program, but as for the profit going to Coca-Cola, the district has no say.
"We understand this is a frustrating situation and were continuing to work with our beverage vendor to find a solution that works for students, parents and allows nutrition program to operate," he said.
In the meantime, students can get milk and a juice box at lunch for no charge. Parents hope the charge for bottled water is temporary.
"I think Coca-Cola should work with the schools better and not force these kind of prices on the schools. I mean, it's not just D-49; other districts are in the same situation," Boerendonk said.
D-49 says they have two years left on their contract and when the time is up they'll explore other options. KRDO contacted Coca-Cola for a statement but didn't hear back.