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Printer complains as Pasco school district work goes to inmates

Jason Braunstein is miffed.

Braunstein, the owner of J&S Printing in Port Richey, won approval to be one of the Pasco County school district's vendors for printing services this year.

Yet when a Hudson High School employee came to him for business cards, the job was canceled before he could even mock something up. A district-level official rejected the purchase, saying the district's preferred printer is now a nonprofit prisoner training company that keeps costs low by using inmate labor.

As part of this year's budget cuts, the Pasco school district laid off six employees and closed its printing and graphics department. That's when its go-to printer became Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, also known as PRIDE.

"The district basically told every school that even though we are (one of the) three awarded vendors, PRIDE is still the main vendor," Braunstein said. "The only way they can use us is if there is a time-sensitive crunch. . . . I'm not allowed to get it even if my pricing is there."

He complained Tuesday to the School Board.

"I am local and I am here and I am eager to provide business," he told the board.

Board members Allen Altman and Joanne Hurley said they have heard other concerns about the arrangement.

"You are not alone," they told Braunstein in unison.

A Zephyrhills school had complained about using PRIDE because the turnaround time would be too long. Schools have been told that PRIDE needs 18 to 21 business days to get jobs done.

That's not good enough for such items as football programs, which might have only five days lead time, Altman said. Yet school employees seemed generally unaware that they had options other than PRIDE.

Assistant superintendent Tina Tiede answered that type of printing project could go to nearby vendors. It's projects that can be planned and ordered in advance — things like business cards — that should go to PRIDE.

With more planning, she said, the district can better review all printing requests and determine which are really needed and which the district can do without. Daily copying still takes place at the schools and in departments.

While the district agreed to outsource printing to save money, board member Alison Crumbley said she didn't necessarily intend to take money out of the local economy. She has asked the administration for more information about Braunstein's complaint.

"I'd rather keep our local Pasco businesses going whenever we can," she said, adding quickly that she has faith that the district purchasing department does its job properly.

Chief finance officer Olga Swinson said during Tuesday's meeting that part of the issue might be that Braunstein and other vendors did not offer competitive pricing to PRIDE.

Braunstein told the Times that he cannot find out PRIDE's prices, and added that it's hard to compete with a firm that has legislative protections and pays its workers only 55 cents an hour.

"I pay $12 an hour to my guys," he said. "Who can win?"

As a result, he said, he and other local printers lose out on perhaps $500,000 worth of business.

"I'm certainly going to struggle to provide," Braunstein said. "I'm basically getting all of the grunt work and none of the good work. . . . It's bad not to keep the money in the district."

Altman, Crumbley and others have asked for more details about the district's new printing system, which took effect in July.

Braunstein, meanwhile, said he will continue to let them know how much money he is losing because of the deal.

Staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

.FAST FACTS

About PRIDE

PRIDE was founded in 1981 to teach job skills and a successful work ethic to prison inmates while also reducing government expenses by providing certain goods and services at lower costs.

Last year, the nonprofit company operated 45 inmate work programs, including four culinary arts training programs. Inmates do everything from making office furniture and clothing to providing data entry and document imaging services.

Nearly 4,000 inmates worked a total of 3.6 million hours last year in various PRIDE programs, which are located at prisons around the state. The company generated $64.4 million in sales statewide last year.

The Pasco County school district is one of several in Florida to use PRIDE.

Pasco County government also has entered into nine contracts with PRIDE over the past year, totaling more than $26,000. The group supplies a variety of items, including 100,000 customer service newsletters, 13 park benches, and soap and cleaning supplies for fire stations.

Source: Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability; Pasco County Purchasing Department

Printer complains as Pasco school district work goes to inmates 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:40pm]
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