School officials say they have no problem with recycled items

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2013

EAST SPENCER — School officials said Monday that there are no End Of Grade tests in the schools’ recycled materials, and the discarded textbooks could not be used because of curriculum changes.

At least one county employee was instructed to remove the school system’s discarded items at a recycling center last week, sources have said.

Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, said he is “insulted and incensed” that county officials plan to show the recycled materials to its legislative delegation Thursday.

“Thursday of this week is a special day for a person who has dedicated her life to kids,” Richard Miller said, referring to a reception being held in honor of Superintendent Judy Grissom’s retirement.

During Monday’s meeting of the school board, he said he wants to know if the county is examining only the school system’s recycling or all levels of county government.

“If we’re the only one whose recycling is being examined, and county tax money is being spent on that, then that’s a real issue for me,” Richard Miller said. “I think it’s, again, bullying and browbeating us on what we think is right for 20,000 kids, and it is unconscionable and should not be tolerated.”

Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, said he went to the recycling center Monday morning with Colby Cochran, testing and accountability director; Alesia Burnette, elementary education director; and Kelly Feimster, media director; to see what school materials had been collected there.

Miller reported that they saw five or six large recycling bins full of textbooks, workbooks and other materials, next to a room with tables and a “meticulously laid out display of everything that was there by category.”

“You just have to see this to get the idea that obviously, somebody was planning on surprising the school system with who knows what,” Gene Miller said.

Cochran said he was concerned when he heard that End-of-Grade tests had been recycled, because the school system has a different procedure in place to handle secure materials like that.

“I’m very pleased to report to you that I saw no evidence of End-of-Grade tests or anything that would resemble a copy of and End-of-Grade test,” Cochran said.

What he did see were commercial books sent by publishers that promise success on the state tests. Cochran said the books looked to be published before the format of the tests changed.

Burnette said textbooks that were recycled either could not be used or were samples sent by publishers.

“The materials that the four of us saw this morning reflected multiple changes in the curriculum,” Burnette said.

Some books were just worn out, she said. Others appeared to be new but had stickers on them that said “review” or “sample materials,” Burnette said. If schools chose not to order the books, then the samples sent by publishers can’t be used in the classroom.

Feimster couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting, so Grissom relayed a report she had given.

In the past, Grissom said, the state sent someone to pick up discarded books, but several years ago it decided that this was too costly. Counties were then asked to recycle their own textbooks.

She said the system’s policy and procedures encourage schools to allow students and teachers to look through outdated materials before they are discarded.

The public library does not take discarded materials from the school system, she said, though Feimster didn’t know why.

Private and home schools, Grissom said, probably could not use the old textbooks because they work from their own curriculum. Charter schools could not use them for the same reason public schools can’t.

Richard Miller asked if the school system is using the same recycling procedure that it has followed for the past several years.

“It’s the same,” Burnette said.

He said this still may be a good opportunity to remind all 35 school sites about the system’s recycling guidelines.

Board Member L.A. Overcash asked if the directors saw anything was recycled that should not have been, and they said they did not.

Josh Wagner asked if anyone had an estimate of how many school items were stored at the recycling center, and if the school system keeps an inventory of the items it recycles.

Gene Miller said the recycling center might be able to tell him, but it would be according to weight, not individual items.

He added that individual schools are the ones recycling these materials, not the school system itself. About 31 or 32 of the system’s 35 schools decide to recycle.

Wagner also asked how often the recycling is picked up at each school. Gene Miller said he’s not sure, but probably monthly.

Chuck Hughes, who also visited the recycling center on his own, agreed that almost everything that he saw was something that needed to be recycled.

But Hughes said he saw about a dozen books meant to help children learn to read, and they looked to be in great shape. He asked if the school system could hold back materials like that and give students the chance to pick out books they’d like to take home.

“There were a significant number of re-usable storybooks that would have been great in the hands of some of those children who may not have books in the house or be able to afford them,” Hughes said.

Kay Wright Norman said schools often do make discarded books available for children to take home, but for whatever reason, some of the books might not be suitable for them.

“I don’t know what your experience has been with public schools, but teachers don’t throw away a lot,” Norman said. “Whatever they can salvage, if there’s something they can use, they use it. They often use it – I think many people would recognize – long past its usefulness.”

Jean Kennedy agreed. She said the procedure is not new, and it’s pretty much the same as it was when she was in the classroom.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.