May 17, 2011
Paperless project is lesson for lawmakers
Schools use a lot of paper. It’s always been a given, but does it have to be?
Skyline High School spent a week last month trying to cut down on its paper use. The school librarian, Elisabeth Bacon, is to be congratulated for even thinking of the idea. She is a great example of a public servant questioning the status quo. Her plan taught the students and faculty a lesson, and likely saved taxpayers a couple bucks along the way.
The school saw a 60 percent reduction in paper use. To be sure, the results weren’t perfect. Some assignments were printed at home instead of at school. While that may have helped the district save some money, it didn’t do much for trees.
But the idea is worth exploring. Certainly no one could expect a school to be truly paperless, but students, teachers and staff can be more conscious of their choices. Never short the students what is needed, but there are other ways to approach lessons than running off dozens of copies.
The drive also helped highlight a quirk in state law that shows a need for a bit more local control.
While using less paper will save some tax dollars, money isn’t the only issue. Paper costs aren’t terribly high in terms of school district budgets. The environmental costs, however, can be problematic, and this is where state law works against good intentions.
The state mandates that school districts accept the lowest bid on supplies. That sounds good on the surface, but in this case it effectively prohibits schools from choosing environmentally correct recycled paper, since a ream of recycled paper costs more than one of “virgin” paper.
Only when recycled paper becomes mainstream will technology catch up to make pricing more competitive. But schools and other government agencies aren’t permitted to make choices that match their values, even the very values they are teaching.
Certainly taxpayers want the best value, but the state should allow localities more flexibility in choosing which products to buy.