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Panel of principals may study lost book problem

Troubled by reports of uncollected losses, Hillsborough school officials will be pushing principals to get students to pay up when they lose or damage their textbooks.

The problem last year cost the district about $381,000, prompting both a critical look at how that figure was calculated and how best to prevent such waste in the future.

Another $105,000 worth of lost and damaged textbooks was recouped from students and their parents, who by state law are required to make amends.

Now, Grace Ippolito, the assistant superintendent of instruction, wants a committee of principals and assistant principals to develop guidelines for monitoring inventories and collecting debts.

And she wants to tie that accounting to each principal's annual performance evaluation.

Ippolito's suggestions, spelled out in a memo to School Superintendent Earl Lennard, are still being formalized, said school district spokesman Mark Hart.

Meanwhile, Jeff Millman, Hillsborough's supervisor of educational materials, will be meeting with the principals of schools that reported more than $1,000 worth of lost and damaged textbooks for the 1997-98 school year. Sixty-four schools fit that description, including 21 elementary, 27 middle and 16 high schools.

But those numbers could be misleading, said Jack Davis, director of educational media and technology. That's because some schools might have included in their inventories out-of-date textbooks no longer in use. Schools are allowed to give those textbooks away to students.

Also, not all the schools counted accurately.

The report shows, for example, that Alafia Elementary lost 772 books, while the actual number, determined after a second count, was 182, Davis said.

Ippolito said 27,872 textbooks were lost and not paid for last year, representing 2.5 percent of the district's total. Typically, a student is assigned four textbooks, each of which costs about $40, Davis said.

Uncollected losses last year ranged from $12 at Kenly Elementary to $28,319 at King High School, plus another $3,662 for King's International Baccalaureate students. Another eight schools reported uncollected debts of more than $10,000: Buchanan and Franklin middle schools; and Chamberlain, East Bay, Gaither, Leto, Plant City and Sickles high schools.

Ippolito says one reason schools do not collect for lost textbooks is because more than half of the students in the district qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches, a standard measure of poverty.

As she noted in her memo, such families could be forced to choose between paying for a lost textbook and "providing shoes or food for their child."

Still, of the 27 schools with textbook losses amounting to more than $5,000, only three qualify for additional federal funding for students living in poverty.

Among her recommendations, Ippolito wants school administrators to share what works best in collecting debts. A powerful motivator, Davis said, is preventing students from attending graduation ceremonies until they pay for lost books. A new law last year, he added, allows principals to restrict indebted students from extracurricular activities.

"Let's bear in mind who's losing the books," Davis said. "The students are losing the books. While many of the schools are making an earnest effort to replace money for lost books, we need help from parents to collect those monies."