Paper a scarce item in schools Elementary teachers scrounge for scraps for class assignments

February 23, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

If paper and photocopies are the currency of education, then Howard County teachers say their supplies resemble the budgets of most Americans -- there's never enough to go around.

And nowhere is this more evident than in Howard's elementary )) schools, where some teachers keep their paper secured under lock and key, many scrounge for scraps and all try to never discard a piece of paper without using both sides.

Such limits on basic supplies stand in stark contrast to Howard's affluent image and the county's relatively high level of spending on education. One of the wealthiest counties in the nation as measured by residents' income, Howard spends more per student on education than every school system in Maryland except Montgomery County.

Yet, as Howard's school board gets set this week to approve a spending plan for next year, even school funds for paper and duplication are under scrutiny and tight control.

The scrimping over paper and photocopies isn't just a matter of teacher convenience. Time spent having students copy exercises off blackboards -- often done to reduce photocopies -- is time that teachers say is lost for instruction. Many teachers find it distracting and demoralizing.

"I still have trouble believing that paper and copies are such a big deal," says Leah Amato, a fifth-grade teacher at east Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School. "They really shouldn't such a concern -- we have more important things to worry about."

But there seems no end to the lengths that schools go to control the use of paper.

At west Columbia's Clemens Crossing Elementary School last fall, teachers and administrators received their own separate caches of white paper. The school's copiers are kept empty of paper; to duplicate something, everyone -- even the principal -- -- has to bring his or her own supplies.

"Sometimes, you forget to bring your paper and just need three copies, so you borrow from someone else," says second-grade instructional assistant Cathy Hartman at Clemens Crossing. "But you always make sure to pay them back, because paper is so precious."

Howard's schools are expected to make more than 88 million copies this school year, according to Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin. That breaks down to more than 2,000 duplicates per year for each of Howard's 39,000 students -- or about 500,000 copies per day so far this school year.

For the students

While many of those copies go toward uses other than direct instruction -- including memos, curriculum guides and school newsletters -- the bulk of the paper is aimed at pupils.

"We get a lot of paper," says Stevens Forest Elementary School fifth-grader Michael Beare in Columbia's Oakland Mills village. "Sometimes it's printed copies and sometimes it's purple dittos, but there's always a lot of paper."

Still, teachers say there's often not enough for everything they want to do -- particularly in the second half of the school year when they start receiving warnings about curtailing paper and ,, photocopier use.

Kalin says about half the county's schools find they need more copies than they're allotted. "It's just like your household budget -- you can't buy everything you want, so you have to make choices," he says.

Kalin says he does not believe that the controls on photocopies have a negative effect on classroom instruction because there's always a way for teachers to make the copies they truly need. All schools have a Gestetner printer -- essentially an updated version of the old purple-ink mimeograph -- on which they are allowed to produce unlimited copies.

Schools that run up against their limits can reallocate their funds to buy more paper and copies -- but often at the expense of other basic needs.

Teachers and administrators at east Columbia's Waterloo Elementary School, for example, are trying to decide what to trim in next year's budget -- construction paper, white paper, photocopies, laminating plastic or something else.

"There really [is] no easy choice, because the teachers need all ++ of it for instruction," says Brad Herling, Waterloo's assistant principal.

Waterloo's PTA -- like those at many Howard elementaries -- frequently gives teachers extra money to buy materials and paper. But there's only so much pizza and gift wrap that a PTA can be asked to sell, teachers say.

To the blackboard

So teachers end up limiting duplication of exercises and spending more time than they'd like writing on blackboards for students to copy.

"Time spent copying something down is wasted instructional time, and we certainly don't have any of that time available to waste," says Pam Jones, who teaches a split class of fourth- and fifth-graders at Waterloo.

Waterloo second-grade teacher Beth Charnock says she replenished her team's supply last spring with used paper that a local copy shop planned to recycle. She had to spend hours reviewing what was on every page to make sure her second-graders didn't see such inappropriate writings as a partial rough draft of an adult novel.

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