That’s a lot of extra schoolbooks

I see where two local groups have announced the largest in-kind donation ever made to Southern Nevada’s Public Education Foundation, the nonprofit that channels charitable aid to the Clark County School District.

The Latin Chamber of Commerce and Another Joy Foundation plan to give to the Foundation textbooks for which they list a value of $6.8 million.

The 161,708 unused books — dating from 2006 or later — were provided by textbook publishers including McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Budget cuts for the government youth propaganda camps — in particular, “dramatic” reductions in textbook dollars — made the need for help with books all the more acute, explains Javier Trujillo, chairman of the Latin Chamber and a former Clark County School District teacher.

The texts, many of them intended for bilingual students, will cover areas such as math, science and “language arts” (Did that used to be “English,” I wonder?) in all grades.

Both groups say the donation announced Feb. 17 is just the beginning; they hope to locate and transfer at least another $15 million or so worth of books in the next 12 to 18 months.

Presumably the publishers will get hefty tax deductions for six-year-old books they couldn’t sell. That’s fine; that’s why the “loophole” for charitable donations is in the code.

Check for a quick primer on “transitional” versus “maintenance” bilingualism. (Immigrant families tend to prefer that the grandkids be raised English-only, while some groups, including Native Americans and ethnic Hawaiians, have belatedly realized that loss of the traditional language can also mean loss of the traditional culture.)

Mr. Trujillo assures me school district staff have said these specific books are needed, so the Latin Chamber and Another Joy certainly deserve credit for their good works.

A couple questions do arise, though.

Who decided to accept without challenge a valuation of $42 per book to help McGraw-Hill et al. clear out their warehouses? Don’t unsold textbooks lose value fairly quickly?

A local accountant tells me it’s unlikely the publishers will be able to claim a tax reduction at full list price: “The code says they have to report a ‘market value.’” And a Las Vegas Rotarian smiled when told of the $42-per-book valuation. “We used to drive to a warehouse the library District had over on Arville, whenever a new school would open,” the Rotary member recalled. “We’d fill up an SUV with books, and give them to the schools. We stocked a number of school libraries that way, and we paid a dime a book. I suppose if we’d used a figure of $42 a book, we could have claimed we were making a million-dollar donation, too.”

It’s unlikely former Clark County Superintendent Carlos Garcia had a hand in this deal, as some have suggested. He did indeed leave here to become “vice president for urban markets” at McGraw-Hill in 2005, but in 2007 he moved on to another superintendent’s post, this time in San Francisco.

But why do these publishers appear to have so seriously overestimated the market for bilingual textbooks? (I doubt Las Vegas is the only town in the Southwest being offered such largesse. Could we be talking a million books?)

Lee Wilson is president & CEO of PCI Education in San Antonio. He spent two decades in the education publishing business, and blogs at, where as of Dec. 21 we read: “Is the instructional materials market in the tank? … Since November 1st a moderately down market has dropped like a stone. A senior executive at one of the big 4 publishers flatly stated that this was the worst he’d seen it in 35 years. I’m inclined to agree. …”

But the problem isn’t necessarily any huge wave of budget cuts, according to Mr. Wilson.

“For the supplemental market the evidence points towards a stall — at least so far. Low sales numbers don’t match the funding availability, there is no evidence that a huge amount of funding has been pulled from the market all of a sudden. What we do have is an abundance of uncertainty which is prompting districts to sit on the funds they have.”

Sales of basic textbooks have definitely stalled. “The large publishers have reacted accordingly with McGraw-Hill laying off over 500 people and HMH a smaller number,” Mr. Wilson reports.

But where does all this uncertainty come from?

“Everyone was expecting a cooling in the market when the stimulus program came to an end in September,” Mr. Wilson explains. “Then the Feds announced that they would grant extensions through next September to pretty much anyone who applied. Prudent districts will sit on these funds until next summer when they have more information about all funding sources. … We may also be experiencing a ‘stimulus hangover’ similar to a sales dip in the car market after a huge round of incentive driven purchases.”

Another “unintended consequence” of a feel-good federal intervention — a purpose-designed bubble that had to collapse? Imagine that!

And of course, there’s “the death of the book,” itself.

“The success of blended print/technology products is upending the traditional buying processes in districts,” Mr. Wilson reveals. “This is the result of new regulations on the adoptions … that allow districts to purchase in many media rather than requiring a book. New product evaluation procedures need to bring both textbook purchasing and technology experts together. This is taking some time to figure out and gumming things up.”

Combine that with new mandates from the Department of Education, the counterproductive, blatantly unconstitutional federal agency that’s supposedly forbidden to dictate local curricula (ha!) and that every responsible politician has been promising to take out behind the barn and shoot since 1981 — mandates which appear to exist precisely so states and school districts have to jump through federal hoops to acquire “waivers” — and you have a government dominated “market” in predictable chaos, leaving the best-funded school systems in the history of the world whining that they don’t have funds to hand every kid a couple hundred bucks worth of schoolbooks — which we used to cover in brown paper and turn in so they could be re-used for years.

In a 2009 study, the Nevada Policy Research Institute found the Clark County School District officially reporting per-pupil spending for the 2008-09 school year would be $7,175, but that when all costs including building construction and debt service were included, “The actual true cost per pupil will be $13,387.” ( .)

And this district needs charity for schoolbooks?

One Comment to “That’s a lot of extra schoolbooks”

  1. Lava Says:

    Come on, “language arts” was the class title in the 1980’s. Quit digressing Vin.