Online forum is swap shop for surplus Pinellas school supplies

Published July 3, 2012

LARGO — Karen Coffey put the finishing touches on an online posting for a bunch of old headsets that she thought would sit there awhile.

After all, school's out.

But a day later they were gone. Sitting at home, a teacher called dibs on the dozen headsets.

At a workshop Tuesday, Coffey described the new online forum created two weeks ago to allow Pinellas County School district employees to browse through surplus supplies before they are auctioned off.

Like Craigslist, the online forum lists free items with descriptions and photos, but only school district employees can access it.

No longer needed at one school, a projector might be in great demand at another. Already school employees have snagged other items like desk chairs and printers.

"We've made a lot of progress so far," said Coffey, the district's budget specialist.

A Times story last month detailing a Pinellas Park pawnbroker's experience at a school district auction sparked concern that equipment was being sold that could be used at other schools.

Tim Russell raised questions after he spent about $900 on electronics and other items that he expected would resell for more than $25,000. Though he hasn't sold everything yet, he said, so far the items have netted about $18,000.

Russell agreed to serve on a committee the district created to look into other ways of auctioning the surplus property and figure out why so much excess property exists when the district is facing a $14 million budget shortfall for next year.

"They're making an honest effort to try and improve the situation," Russell said, and called the forum a great idea.

In the past, the district has held on-site auctions once or twice a year. The last one brought in $206,906 for the district and $28,188 for the auctioneer that takes a cut, Harrow's Auctions.

Although shipping might be a hassle, Russell said, moving to online auctions could solve most of the problems. Hillsborough and Pasco county school districts use the auction website

Coffey said several sites already have contacted Pinellas, but she doesn't want to copy other districts without researching all the options.