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Debate continues on cost of class rings

The School Board will continue the debate today on the high cost of class rings and graduation materials.

Pinellas school officials had hoped to save students money and keep prices consistent by establishing a countywide price. But some board members argued two weeks ago that such decisions should be made at the school level.

The debate was sparked when school officials received countywide bids from companies for rings and items such as caps and gowns and graduation announcements. Each school now receives its own bids.

School Superintendent Howard Hinesely said students complained that the cost of similar class rings was different at various schools. The bids showed that students could save money by using the county pricing, which favored rings made by Balfour.

"We wanted a fair price for the students," Hinesley said.

But board member Barbara Crockett said schools should be able to make their own decisions, even if the students pay more.

"What are you going to do the next time a school makes a bad decision?" Crockett asked Hinesley during a board workshop Tuesday. "Take it out of their hands and say you made a lousy decision?"

"We didn't do that," Hinesely said. "All we did was react to some complaints."

Hinesely said later that officials are putting together a policy change that would give each school the option of accepting the county price or going after its own deal _ as long as the school's advisory council okays it.

The School Board would have to approve the policy change.

According to Mark Lindemann, director of purchasing for Pinellas schools, price and quality of the rings were considered when choosing Balfour. The top-of-the-line Balfour ring averaged out to $210. Van Williams submitted bids on Herff Jones rings ($222) and J. Lewis Small rings ($165). Lindemann said Balfour offered the best quality at the best price.

Balfour also gave the best deal on disposable cap and gowns ($11.50) and announcements (25 cents).

"I don't want to blow my own horn, but it takes a person who does this for a living to see what these (salespeople) do," Lindemann said. "Some schools get caught up in the propaganda."

Lindemann said some schools accepted the lowest ring bid from a company, only to find out that most of the students did not want the cheaper rings. By bidding the most expensive rings, he said, students won't experience sticker shock.

"If they want a cheaper ring, fine, they can buy one," Lindemann said. "But it won't be the other way around" where students pay more than what was bid.

When Crockett complained that the bid process was not fair because ring quality is subjective, Hinesely countered that she is getting her information from Van Williams. "They (companies) are trying to confuse you," Hinesley said.

Lindemann said he did not understand why the board would not approve the county price, especially if schools could swing their own deals later.

"We got a lot better price and that was our goal," he said. "Unfortunately, it became a political battle."