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MAKING DO WITH LESS // The Great Paper Chase

You can say it this year and you'll be right. Schools aren't what they used to be.

In many classrooms teachers are doing without the one commodity many consider a teaching essential _ paper.

It's not because teachers don't want it or need it. It's because the cost of all paper, especially copy paper, has skyrocketed in the past two years.

Paper prices are "having a major impact on school budgets, no doubt about it," said Mark Lindemann, director of purchasing for the Pinellas school district.

Because paper supplies are limited, teachers are relying on their own creativity instead of mimeographed work sheets to get lessons across to youngsters in their classrooms.

For instance, children work on projects in groups of four or five instead of by themselves. That way, one group report is turned in instead of individual reports.

Lesson assignments are often written on flip charts or overhead projectors instead of on 30 mimeographed sheets.

"We're emptying old files," said Bob Jackson, principal of Southside Fundamental School in St. Petersburg. "We're asking teachers to use the backs of old papers."

This year, before any paper is tossed into a recycling bin, educators check first to see if both the front and back sides are filled, Jackson said.

School custodians also are conserving.

At Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater, custodian Jim Muzzey moved sinks, soap and paper towels outside student bathrooms so the hand-drying process could be monitored.

The move "cut our paper towel consumption 40 percent," Muzzey said, explaining that in the past, wads of towels wound up in toilets.

Thomas Jones, principal of Sixteenth Street Middle School in St. Petersburg, said he first became aware of the paper shortage at the beginning of this school year.

"The superintendent called it to our attention," Jones said. "It's incredible what's happened."

So far, his school has been spared any major problems because of a wealth of copy paper the school had kept in storage.

But other schools aren't so lucky.

There was no copy paper stored away at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin. And an order that was supposed to be delivered before opening day was delayed, said principal Debbie Ramker.

Lindemann said late deliveries are standard these days where paper is concerned.

"In some cases, manufacturers are withholding production," he said. "Vendors won't honor prices for more than 24 hours at a time."

And the price? According to Lindemann, a case of paper that cost $20 two years ago now costs about $30.50. When school began this year, the price was even higher: $33 a case. There are 10 reams of paper to a case and 500 sheets to a ream.

"We've gotten in the habit of using too much copy paper," said Barbara Thornton, principal of Largo High School. "It's easy and convenient."

But this year Largo High School teachers are re-evaluating.

"Everybody has committed to taking a good look to see if what we're copying is essential," Thornton said.

At Southside Fundamental, leaflets for parents were limited to one page this year, Jackson said. Normally, they are at least four pages.

At Largo High School, handouts for teachers were placed in the office to be checked out. Usually each teacher gets one.

"We're no longer ditto-happy," said Brenda Leasure, principal of Palm Harbor Elementary School. "Yes, paper is a problem. But we can be creative. We're teachers."

It's doubtful the youngsters in Rose Curtis' second-grade class at Eisenhower Elementary are aware there is a paper shortage this year.

In a corner of the classroom is a stack of old newspapers. Children use them for projects that in past years would have required construction paper or copy paper.

They learn the shapes of geometric figures by cutting squares and triangles from the newspapers. They draw silhouettes of each other on the newspapers and then cut them out.

"We've asked parents to donate computer paper," Curtis said. "That helps out a lot."

Dave Parsons, a third-grade teacher at Eisenhower, has children put three or four different assignments on one sheet of paper. They draw lines across the paper to indicate where one assignment ends and the next begins.

"Even if we didn't have a paper shortage I'd be doing this," Parsons said. "I tell them wasting paper is a misuse of our precious trees."

To get the paper they must have, teachers don't mind asking for it.

Godfrey Watson, a guidance counselor at Rio Vista Elementary School in St. Petersburg, said teachers have asked the big companies _ such as Xerox and Honeywell _ for donations, and the companies have come through.

Service clubs are helping out, too.

The Dunedin Lions Club adopted Dunedin Middle School language arts teacher Frances Mary Sullivan this year. So far it has spent $98.20 on supplies for her classes, said Clair Miller, secretary of the club.

Yes, there's a paper crisis, but teachers will adjust.

"There will be fewer paper-and-pencil types of activities," San Jose principal Ramker said. "But we've gotten pretty good at sharing."