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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Books in Storage as Feud Drags On

Posted on Fri, Jul. 22, 2005
By R.A. Dyer / Fort Worth Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - As a result of the Texas Legislature's repeated failures to agree on school finance, millions of textbooks probably won't make it to schoolchildren in time for the first day of classes.

That's the word from Texas textbook coordinators, who say students taking fine arts, foreign language and health classes should expect to get second-hand books -- or no books at all -- when they show up next month.

"I don't have enough books -- and that's what districts from across the state are facing right now," said Brian Squyres, textbook manager for the Northside school district near San Antonio. "We're praying for the old ones to hold together."

With the end of the special legislative session this week, Gov. Rick Perry and Texas lawmakers have now struck out three times in their attempts to overhaul school finance. On Wednesday, Perry ordered lawmakers back yet again -- saying the Legislature will continue to meet until it gets the job done.

The logjam in Austin is already causing headaches for school district administrators statewide. Besides complicating the writing of budgets and the setting of taxes, it has also held up $295 million for health, foreign language and fine arts books -- about 6 million in all -- that were scheduled to go into classrooms in a few weeks.

Lawmakers have agreed to fund the books but need authorization to pay for them through separate legislation that remains tied up.

Already approved by the State Board of Education and printed by publishers, the books now languish in warehouses and await delivery.

Although they operate without contracts from the state, publishers print the books with the expectation that the state will purchase them.

Another $150 million in textbooks for career technology, English as a second language and other subjects have been funded and will be in schools this fall.

The problem with not getting the go-ahead for fine arts, health and foreign language books is that in many cases they replace books already older than the children who use them, officials said. Districts have lost many of the books to normal wear and tear, but also need more of them because of growth, officials say.

"We're going to move forward with whatever textbooks we have," said Mark Thomas, spokesman for the 22,000-student Birdville district. "There's really not a whole lot else we can do unless they decide the funding issue. We just hope it's sooner rather than later."

Pat Linares, a deputy superintendent for the Fort Worth district, said if textbook funding doesn't come through from the state, teachers and administrators will "get creative" with educational projects, using supplemental materials or reusing old textbooks.

"It's always a difficult situation when decisions have not been made totally about anything related to the funding of public education," Linares said. "We have to think of creative ways to make sure our children get the education that is necessary."

Cliff Avery, director of the Textbook Coordinators Association of Texas, said that districts typically order books in April for delivery in June or July. It then takes several weeks for publishers and districts to process the books.

In the unlikely scenario that lawmakers immediately agree on a new school finance system, that still doesn't leave enough time for districts to get the books ordered, delivered, inventoried and distributed, Avery said.

As a result, districts now find themselves confronting several undesirable options:

• They can wait for the Legislature to agree on school finance and order books then. But who knows when that will be, said Squyres, who also acts as president of the Textbook Coordinators group. "That's when we start deciding to use classroom sets. It really puts us in a bind."

• Districts can attempt to purchase books on the used market. The problem with that option is the state doesn't reimburse districts for second-hand books, Avery said.

• Or they can just do what the Mansfield and Arlington districts have done: Try to make do with whatever is available.

Steve Brown, the Arlington district's associate superintendent of finance, said it's too early to tell whether the district will need to purchase new books out of pocket.

"We're not going to jump out there yet and buy any because the Legislature is still looking at it, and it's still a possibility," Brown said. "And we're going to have to look at how much it would cost to see if we could afford to purchase the new books the state is supposed to be furnishing."

Joe Glover, the Mansfield district's director of school services, said health, fine arts and foreign language classes must start out with old versions of materials. One of the fastest-growing districts in the state, Mansfield also must provide textbooks for the hundreds of new students expected to enroll, he said.

"It's not like it's going to make the curriculum fall apart," he said. "We will still be doing what we've been doing for years, we will continue teaching."

Staff Writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Aimee Streater, Terry Webster and L. Lamor Williams Contributed to This Report.
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ONLINE: www.capitol.state.tx.us
R.A. Dyer, (512) 476-4294 rdyer@star-telegram.com

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