URBANA – It takes a blizzard of white paper, truckloads of pencils, pens, crayons and markers and masses of other classroom supplies to keep schools in business.
And the costs of keeping kids and teachers in paper and pencils add up. Paper, especially, is right at the top of the list of supply-and-demand headaches for all districts.
School purchasing agents typically order paper in the spring, locking in prices for at least the first part of the year.
Bob Biehl, purchasing agent for Urbana schools who's been in the business 14 years, said he will have to order again in December or January, and he expects prices to spike because of fuel costs. And he foresees bigger increases in the future because paper prices are typically linked to construction.
"My understanding is increases are related to what they're doing with trees," Biehl said. "When a lot of trees are going to lumber, that cuts what's available for paper. I worry about prices for the next year or two because with the hurricanes in the South, there's going to be a lot of lumber going to construction and when that happens, prices will go up."
In Champaign, the district typically consumes about 5,000 cases of white paper – 25 million sheets a year, said John Ayers, assistant director of maintenance.
Paulette Slade, who tracks warehouse deliveries, said Champaign paid $20.08 per case for white paper in use this year, a bill of about $100,000. Slade said the two high schools go through so much paper they order 40 cases delivered at a time.
Gene Logas, Champaign's chief financial officer, said the budget for supplies and materials this year is about $3.7 million. That includes $700,000 for new textbooks and $1.2 million for food.
Urbana's $2 million budget for all supplies includes $906,000 for utilities and $127,000 for books, said Carol Baker, business director.
Danville spends about $2.4 million for supplies, including utility bills of about $1 million, said district business director Shanae Hinkle. In 2003-04, Hinkle said, Danville worked out a cooperative paper-buying agreement to pass along economies of scale to neighboring Catlin, Bismarck and Oakwood districts.
"Some county schools pay up to $27 a case for paper, and they can buy it from us for $22," said Randy Pichon, manager of the warehouse where Danville schools store food as well as furniture and supplies.
Pichon orders about 2,800 cases of white copy paper a year, more than 14 million sheets of paper. Pichon said he usually pays about $21 per case, spending between $61,000 and $62,000 a year for white paper alone.
Paper prices depend primarily on three factors – quantity, brightness and grade. Purchasing agents say every district has its own grade preference. High grade paper tends to jam less in copy machines, and some districts figure speed and reduced down time outweighs the higher cost of the better paper.
Pichon also buys about 560 reams of yellow paper, 385 reams of green paper, 390 reams of pink paper, 420 reams of blue paper, 390 reams of three-hole punch and 60 reams of legal paper to meet paper needs of the 6,400 students attending Danville's 11 schools, 550 students at Catlin, 870 youngsters at Bismarck and 1,700 students at Oakwood.
Pichon's warehouse also stocks pens, pencils, paper clips and other classroom basics, as well as janitorial supplies and new books distributed to classes and old ones for recycling.
"When I first started with the district, it used to be just books, pencils and paper," said Pichon, who's worked for Danville schools since 1988. "Things have changed."
Logas said Unit 4 is keeping a closer eye on supply costs as part of its overall effort to get its deficit under control. For example, the district now tracks the use of copy machine paper by requiring user identification.
"We're buying less, about $500,000 less than earlier estimates of supply costs for this school year," he said.
Champaign's enrollment is typically about 9,000 students. Urbana's enrollment is about half that, about 4,280 children this year.
Biehl said Urbana schools typically use 1,700 cases or 8.5 million sheets of white paper a year. Biehl has been spending about $32,776 annually on white paper. He knows he could save money by ordering a rail car – or four semi-loads – of paper, but he doesn't have the space to store that much.
Biehl said he started the year with some paper on hand.
"I thought computers would reduce the use of paper, but they haven't," Biehl said. "But I see a trend in Urbana. We're starting to use less paper."