By Becky Koppenhaver
The last week of school finds many Belmont High seniors eagerly awaiting such welcome rituals as the senior dinner and commencement but also dreading one time-honored tradition: paying off lost books and library fines.
Belmont students – many of them from Angeleno Heights, Echo Park and Historic Filipinotown – who owe money for lost textbooks or unpaid library fines may be blocked from participating in senior year activities such as grad night, senior prom, and even have to forgo graduation until they are all paid up. It’s standard district policy says Belmont High School Librarian, Serena Refoua, who says students generally pay up before senior activities start in the spring.
For Refoua, it’s a matter of students being accountable and responsible. “If students don’t pay us, the district gets stuck with the bill, that means the taxpayers ultimately.”
Most books tend to range between $20- $130. A link to a book price list posted on the Belmont High website reveals that a lost copy of “Animal Farm” will set a student back $17 while “Precalculus with Unit-Circle Trigonometry” costs a steep $110.
According to Refoua, unpaid textbook fees and library fines can follow a Los Angeles Unified student through elementary, middle and into high school. Students are issued a student I.D. number that remains the same as long as they remain in the district. If a student loses a textbook or library book, even if it is stolen, the district expects to be reimbursed regardless of student’s circumstances she says.
Refoua says 80%-90% of students clear up their debt before graduation. “The ones that don’t clear their fines are generally students that don’t care whether they get their diploma, or they don’t need it to continue their education,” she said. Refoua said that Belmont realizes that some students may have extraordinary circumstances that may prevent them from being able to pay the lost book and late fees, and the school may or may not take that into consideration. As school librarian, she says she has occasionally allowed students who have trouble paying over-due book fines to work them off in the library.
According to Rick Hassler, a specialist with the Los Angeles Unified School District Library and Textbook Support Services, there are no exact figures on how much lost text books cost the district each year. But he said that students’ unpaid textbook fees are a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars the district has lost due to an outdated text book inventory system, which has resulted in thousands of surplus textbooks sitting unused in storage closets across the district. Hassler, said a new centralized system that places barcodes on every library and textbook in the district should be up and running next year, helping prevent those kinds of costly errors in the future.
Still he admits, “students will always lose textbooks no matter what we do, and it all adds up, but at least we will be able to keep better track with the new system.”
Becky Koppenhaver is a freelance writer covering schools. You can send Becky story tips and ideas at becky@theEastsiderLA.com