With hopes of recouping more than half a million dollars in lost books annually, Lodi Unified School District is exploring the possibility of sending parents of students who do not return library books or textbooks to a collections agency.
Lisa Kotowski, who oversees the district's curriculum department, said administrators are investigating the idea brought forward during budget committee discussions, but they need to determine if it is legal and the appropriate action to take. No decisions have been made.
Meanwhile, the district has already beefed up its policy and will not permit students with outstanding books to participate in graduation ceremonies until reparation is made. The change will begin with the class of 2012.
State law prohibits schools from denying a student a diploma if they've lost or haven't returned books.
"We are experiencing a huge loss of textbooks and materials not being returned, costing the district thousands of dollars," Assistant Superintendent Odie Douglas said. "We hope this policy will assist in minimizing this loss."
As the new rules are put into place next school year, he said the district may explore the idea of sending parents to a collections agency.
"It's annoying to me that it's gotten this out of hand," trustee Bonnie Cassel said at a recent school board meeting. "With our new policy, I want to go after our families. They have our books."
But Chief Business Official Tim Hern said many of the missing books are in the hands of former students.
"People are literally in the middle of the night getting up and moving out of the district," he said, harkening back to a drastic drop in student enrollment.
And they're taking the books with them.
In Lodi Unified, the task of keeping track of books is overseen by school librarians who check out not only pleasure reading books, but textbooks so that students may keep a set at home for after-hours school work.
Under the Williams Act, state law mandates that students have a set at home.
Lodi High School librarian Linda Brandt, who oversees the school's loaned books, said it's unlikely the collections agency idea will move forward.
The alternative, she said, is to keep billing students and requesting the textbooks to be returned.
"We are exploring using various methods of communication to increase textbook return (such as) email, letters, phone calls and public announcements in newspapers or radio stations," Brandt said.
Textbooks are not cheap. They average $60 to $120 each.
The most expensive book currently being used by Lodi Unified students is Advanced Placement chemistry. With shipping and tax, it costs about $158, according to Kotowski.
An AP psychology textbook costs $113.
Two years ago, librarians publicly called for the return of missing books or the fines be paid.
Every year, the district runs out of textbooks because of the missing ones, and every year replacements must be ordered.
Despite the cost, trustees gave direction earlier this month to shave another $1.25 million from the district's instructional materials fund next school year.
In the end, Brandt believes the district's new policy to prohibit participation in graduation ceremonies is fair since students are notified throughout their four years of high school regarding lost or unreturned textbooks and library books.
"Enough time is given for students to return the loaned materials or to repay the damage or loss to the school," she said.
In the coming weeks, she will be tallying how many notices to send over the summer — 1,000 went out at the beginning at the 2008-09 school year.
"I certainly hope it will be fewer than in the past," Brandt said.
To return old textbooks, visit your student library or call the district office at 331-7000.