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School district mystery is no page turner

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Textbooks have been going missing in the school district.
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It sounds like a case for the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown.

A large number of textbooks and library books have been missing without a trace from Lake Tahoe Unified School District, causing administrators to scratch their heads in amazement.

From the elementary level to high school, hundreds of books equaling thousand of dollars have disappeared.

Carolyn Kirby, textbook coordinator for the district, is perplexed by the situation, especially at the elementary level since students are usually sent home with only paperwork for homework.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “We wonder where they went. We have no idea why we lose so many when they don’t go home.”

Kirby thought for a moment and then reasoned, “maybe they do go home.”

A few fourth-graders at Tahoe Valley Elementary offered some explanations from their own experience, or perhaps imagination, on how school books can vanish.

“Sometimes we take them home and dogs rip them up and eat them,” said Ashley Carpenter.

“I’ve haven’t had anything lost or stolen, but sometimes people take them home and little sisters or brothers scribble in them, rip them up, drool on them,” said Kyle Swain.

Gretchen Chavarria, the librarian at South Tahoe Middle School, said she’s heard plenty of excuses.

“Oh, I did get one back that was torn up by a bear and it did look like it,” she said.

Roughly $5,000 in books have been missing at the middle school, Chavarria said, with an average price of a textbook at $50.

“They’re made to be used quite a bit and that’s why they cost so much,” she said.

At the middle school, students are given textbooks to keep at home while another set is kept in the classroom.

Not much can be done with students who don’t return books. All are given bills and some do pay, Chavarria said, while others are punished by having extracurricular activities suspended.

But when it comes down to it, Chavarria admitted: “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

At the high school, activities can be suspended, such as walking in graduation ceremonies, the ability to buy dance tickets and attend end-of-year events like a senior picnic, said Doug Dilts, library media teacher at the high school.

At the end of last school year, Dilts said that out of 9,000 or so textbooks given out, about 700 were not returned. With the average price of high school textbooks at $60, it equals a loss around $42,000.

“This is a problem that’s not specific to South Tahoe (High School),” he said. “It’s a state problem. It’s probably a nationwide problem.”

Dilts has heard of a school district hiring a collection agency in attempts to recover missing books.

One main reason for lost books, the librarians said, is the frequency of families moving out of the area, possibly taking their books with them. Sometimes, if the district knows where a student transferred to and knows the student has textbooks, the other school district is contacted and the situation is discussed, Kirby said.

District books are distinguishable because of marks inside the front cover of the book. Those that have stamps of “discard” or “unusable” can be kept and not returned to the district.

Kirby encouraged parents to look for textbooks, such as under beds, and have them returned to their child’s school even if the textbook was used at the elementary level and the child is now in middle school.

“It’s very amazing,” she said. “I don’t know where these books go.”


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