Puyallup School District textbook fine protocol reviewed

Textbook fines are a danger that every student has the possibility of facing whenever they check out a book from the library.

When students lose books, the replacement copy must be purchased through the Textbook Media Center (TMC) which is in charge of purchasing the replacement books for the entire Puyallup School District. The fine that students are charged goes towards replacing the book.

Teacher-Librarian Beth Watts explains that some of the replacement books received from the TMC were used copies.

“A recent problem was that some of the ‘Language of Medicine’ textbooks, which are huge paperback workbooks really, [had] replacement copies [that] were purchased and the previous owner had written in them. We have found four [books] to this point,” Watts said. “At one point we fined a student for writing in the book when she turned it in, then realized the mistake and quickly apologized and then sent the books back to the TMC for replacement copies.”

Even though textbooks that are cheaper than the replacement purchased by the TMC, students are not refunded the difference.

“What I see is that it is just a flat out replacement cost and the student is charged a fee for buying a new book and then if the district happens to find a cheaper copy, that money [does not] get back to the students,” Watts said. “It definitely goes towards textbooks. Textbooks are a monstrously huge part of the district expenses. I know that any funds that are somehow saved in purchasing one set of books ends up being put towards other books.”

TMC Secretary Lori Miller explains the system of fines and how students can save some money on fines by replacing the book themselves.

“The district does purchase used books. The fine amount is what it will cost to replace the lost book at the time it is being replaced. Because the used book availability and pricing fluctuates a lot, the replacement cost in the district’s textbook management software is the price of a new book at the time the books are entered,” Miller said. “If a student or parent is able to find a used book for less than the fine amount, they are given the option of replacing the book and having the fine waived. Whether it is an old or new book, it is the replacement cost that must be considered.”

Students under certain circumstances may be able to receive a waiver for their textbook fines as explained by Principal Eric Fredericks.

“I exercise that [ability to waive fines] sparingly. What I do more often than not is work with students to make the payment of those fines affordable. Typically I will help students by putting them on a payment plan. There are two things that are nice about that: one, it makes the end result a little less daunting because you are taking care of it a little bit at a time. It also creates a commitment to getting the job done versus waiting and waiting which is what often happens,” Fredericks said. “I also look at financial needs of the family and what I can do to support those. I am sure there various other circumstances. I take everything on a case by case basis. The replacement cost ultimately ends up being incurred by the building which is another reason I use the waiving of fees sparingly. Because whatever fees are not paid come out of the building budget.”

In order to receive new textbooks, to replace lost one, schools must determine what they need and then request it from the TMC.

“Once the need is determined, the department head or school librarian contacts the TMC. If there is a surplus of the requested title, this is sent to the school. If not, the book will be ordered and when received at TMC, barcoded and transferred to the requesting school,” Miller said. “As with the regular price of new books, the price difference between new and used is different with each book. The least expensive is definitely not always the best, as you can end up receiving an almost unusable book. When used books are purchased we look for the description ‘Like New’ to try to get the best materials for the best price.”

Watts describes the range of costs that textbooks can be in. The most expensive of these is the Chemistry textbook.

“The most expensive textbook we have right now is the chemistry textbook and its replacement cost is about $267 the lowest would be some of the novels we have that are only $9 replacement cost. With the textbooks [fines] should not occur until the middle of July,” Watts said. “The textbooks are due by the end of school but students, who have misplaced them or had them at a different house or something, have until the middle of July to get it turned in here at PHS or down at the district office before the fine.”

Used replacement books can be anywhere from 50 percent less to 25 percent less, according to Watts. The TMC is also a relatively new system that is going through some changes.

“I think the district is trying to find a way to cover this huge expense and trying to make sure that the expensive textbooks are kind of providing the funds themselves, rather than always dipping into the district to drag out more money,” Watts said. “I think that they are trying to create a system that keeps itself in the black. It has only been a couple years that we have been charging student’s replacement costs for textbooks in September. They are trying to figure how to make this work the very best.”