Taxpayers on the hook for thousands of library books and iPads missing from St. Paul schools

It could have been a teachable moment for St. Paul public school students about the importance of personal responsibility. Instead it’s turned out to be a lesson in wasteful government spending gone wild with taxpayers on the hook for thousands of missing library books and unspecified number of iPads that public funds paid for in the first place.

The Pioneer Press published a rough inventory of the missing materials.

St. Paul Public Schools is spending up to $500,000 in federal relief funds on new library materials after watching its collection shrink during the coronavirus pandemic.

The district said 21,368 items from school libraries went missing between September 2019 and March 2021. That’s about 3 percent of its collection, a little more than usual.

Students have had multiple reminders to return them, but the district has decided against fining families for those late or missing books. Graduating seniors also will be allowed to get their diplomas next month even if they have a book checked out.

The school district’s handbook clearly states the responsibilities and consequences for individuals who check out a SPPS-issued iPad.

If a student fails to return an iPad at the end of the school year, or upon withdrawal, the student’s family may beheld liable for the full replacement cost of the iPad.

But that guarantee isn’t worth the dotted line on the virtual screen the school district and students sign on these days. It doesn’t seem to make any difference whether it’s an iPad or old-fashioned library book that’s due back in school. District administrators blithely forgive and forget.

Spokesman Kevin Burns said the district doesn’t want to penalize families that may be struggling because of the pandemic. Anyway, a book can do more good in a child’s home than on a shelf at school, he said.

“A book in a student’s home, particularly during a pandemic when some kids are doing virtual learning and with summer coming up … is much more important to us,” Burns said. “A book being utilized is better than a book not being utilized.”

Apparently it hasn’t occurred to district officials that a book or iPad that goes unreturned deprives other students of the opportunity to benefit from the missing resource.

Yet the lack of accountability clearly starts at the top. The district recently approved spending nearly $400,000 to buy more iPads after allowing students to keep their tablets at home last summer.

…In March, the board authorized the use of $380,000 in federal funds to shore up its iPad stock, partly because more devices had gone missing or came back damaged. Some of that spending was related to the district broadening its 1:1 iPad initiative, which provides each student with a school-owned device, to include community education and early childhood programs and more instructional support staff.