A state review of textbook purchasing practices in Florida appears to boost a legislative effort to give Hernando and Pasco counties increased flexibility when buying books.
School districts could save money and obtain needed instructional materials more efficiently if the state Legislature makes a few changes to the laws governing textbooks, according to a draft report issued Thursday by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
The agency, commonly called OPPAGA, recommends five steps. They are:
Allow the sale and purchase of state-adopted materials across school district lines.
Give districts the option to buy used state-adopted materials, to replace or expand their inventory after the first two years of an adoption period.
Permit districts to purchase state-adopted materials directly from publishers.
Create penalties for publishers that fail to deliver materials on time.
Have the Department of Education more closely monitor offers of free instructional materials that accompany textbooks, to ensure that all districts receive equal offers.
"I'm pleased with the outcome of the OPPAGA study," said state Rep. David Russell, R-Brooksville.
Russell requested the report a year ago, after hearing the Hernando County school district might save up to $300,000 annually if it could buy used textbooks late in the adoption cycle.
He and state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, have filed companion bills that would free Pasco and Hernando counties from the requirement that they must buy new books from the Florida School Book Depository, a private company in Jacksonville.
The Senate version won approval from the Education Committee on Wednesday. The House version is headed to the General Education Committee next week.
"This proves some of the things we've been saying all along," Russell said of the report, calling the lack of flexibility for school districts a key concern when money is tight. "I believe the bill we're proposing will further prove it with the pilot program."
He noted that publishers, at first opposed to the bill, have offered friendly amendments and seem more willing to work with the Legislature on this issue.
Specifically, lobbyists for publishing companies want the bill to mandate that any used books purchased have the same identification number as new books, to make certain they are the same edition containing the relevant Florida-adopted information.
"We have been working with Sen. Fasano to ensure that the desire to save money doesn't diminish the quality of the materials that students will be using," said Eric Thorn, a lawyer with Shutts and Bowen who represents Houghton Mifflin and McDougal Littell.
The Senate Education Committee adopted that amendment into its bill. Russell said he would accept a similar change to his bill.
Bob Boyd, a lawyer with Akerman, Senterfitt and Eidson, is the Florida representative of the Association of American Publishers. He said the publishing companies appreciate the move toward greater flexibility and possible savings for school districts.
The OPPAGA findings could offer some relief, Boyd observed.
But he cautioned that lawmakers and school officials must fully understand the implications of the proposed changes.
The state currently requires publishers to keep the same price for an adopted textbook for six years, he said, even if the price otherwise would rise. It also has publishers provide free supplemental materials, such as FCAT workbooks and teacher editions, and train teachers to use the curriculum.
"With a used book, you may get a book but you don't get any teacher training or any other ancillary material," Boyd said. "You would end up spending possibly more money than you would buying our materials."
He also suggested that used-book sellers would not have adequate supplies.
The final version of OPPAGA's findings will be published later this month, after the Department of Education reviews the document and responds.
_ Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solocheksptimes.com.