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Returning School Books

September 19, 1987

As a teacher of many years standing in Los Angeles city schools, I naturally try to follow public debate on educational issues. For some reason I never hear or see any reference to the incredible amount of money that is lost each year due to students failure to return books checked out to them each year. I have not researched the matter, but if the high school at which I teach is any criteria, the loss to the city, and on a bigger scale the state, is enormous. In the past school year alone, the students at my high school lost and failed to pay for books that totaled approximately $10,000 in value.

Legally schools have the right to collect money for lost or damaged books, but in reality our hands are tied because the means of collecting monies owed is very limited. Our school, like many others, has such a high drop-out and transiency rate that only 55% of an incoming 10th grade class will graduate three years later. As these youngsters drop out or leave the district, they often fail to return the books issued to them and when we try to reach their homes by phone or mail they have, in many cases, just disappeared or else simply ignore our request for payment. The only real weapon we have to force payment is to withhold the diploma until payment is made but if the student fails to graduate this device is meaningless.

While this problem of lost books has always been with us to a certain extent, it seems that in recent years there has been a major increase in the number of books lost. Student and parental values seem to have changed over the years and the sense of obligation or responsibility that was more prevalent in earlier times appears to be lessening. For many it is being replaced by indifference, irresponsibility or even anger and hostility which is expressed in many ways, including refusing to return books or money owed to the schools.

A simple solution does exist. All we need to do is require that a deposit be made for each book checked out and I guarantee you the students and parents will feel an increased sense of responsibility. I realize that many people will cry out that education is supposed to be free and that the poor will be made to suffer under this program. But I suggest these deposits will not be lost for if money has any value at all to the students, they will take care to return their books in undamaged condition.

For those concerned about the financial burden of checking out new expense books, perhaps this program could be modified so that the deposit is only a fraction of the true value of the book, or we could ask for one deposit of $20 or $30 that would be refunded when all books were returned. Even the poor can afford a minimal deposit and the lesson in responsibility would be an added value taught to the benefit of schools, taxpayers and society.

ARTHUR SHAPERO

Sepulveda

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