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Some DFW schools are making do without new textbooks

Legislative gridlock held up districts' orders, but delays aren't as long as feared

08/25/2011 11:22 PM

09/10/2011 5:57 AM

The textbook case seemed grim back in June: The Legislature still hadn't approved school funding during its special session, and district planners who usually order books in April wouldn't be able to access the state's new ordering system until August.

Now, a week into the new school year, publishers and districts report that textbook ordering and distribution are proceeding smoothly, and despite current delays, months-long waits aren't likely.

"We've seen about 25 percent of the orders we anticipated come in so far," said Eve Myers, Southwest region vice president for publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. "About 75 percent of districts have not placed a complete order."

The publisher's state-authorized book shipments this year stand at 745,000 volumes, which is far behind last year's total of 3.8 million.

The Texas Education Agency has processed 1,321 completed book requisitions from districts, with 80 more awaiting the agency's approval. Others have yet to be submitted to the TEA.

Houghton, which sells books to almost every district in the state, has already fulfilled orders from large districts including Lewisville, Houston and North Side, near San Antonio.

Arlington's books are slowly coming in, while Fort Worth had to wait to order books and come up with ways to teach without them.

"We are still waiting on some items, but we're getting shipments every few days," Arlington spokeswoman Leslie Johnston said. "We will have received a large portion of the new adoption with the shipments arriving early next week."

Delayed shipments

The scramble for textbooks was partly caused by state lawmakers' prolonged fight over education funding as well as an ongoing reconfiguration of the TEA's online ordering system, which will eventually ease book buying. The new system and other changes are required by a law enacted this year.

The ordering process goes like this: A district places its order with the TEA, and the publisher may receive the approved order within a day or so. In-state publishers like Houghton say they can get orders to many districts within 48 hours and anywhere in the state within a week. Still, there have been delays.

Arlington's shipments have trickled in, Johnson said, which is good because the orders had to be made so late, making it harder to get the books to students at the district's 73 schools.

"It has been a little more difficult than years past due to timing," Johnston said. "In the past, shipments would arrive in the summer and we would have part-time help, usually bus drivers and students, able to assist with deliveries."

Fort Worth officials said they could not place their order until Aug. 16, so they implemented a plan to deal with the lag. That included leaving older textbooks on campus until new ones arrived and giving teachers strategies for working in the meantime, said Michael Sorum, the district's chief of academics.

For example, fourth-graders may be reading stories from an unused portion of last year's third-grade English textbook, Sorum said.

"They all have materials," Sorum said. "We are just waiting for the most up-to-date books to come in."

Crowley's final orders for new textbooks were submitted this month when the state opened the ordering process.

"Not all of the new textbooks have arrived yet, so some classes are using last year's textbooks for now," district spokesman Anthony Kirchner said. "Consumables [workbooks] were ordered this week because we wanted to wait for this year's student headcount numbers."

In Northeast Tarrant

Grapevine-Colleyville, which has a 10-year plan to bring state-of-the-art technology into its classrooms, took the new flexibility in materials allotment into account and assessed needs before ordering.

"We have placed our new adoption orders and continue to monitor our textbook needs as the school year gets under way," spokeswoman Megan Overman said. "We have not experienced any shortages from publishers to date."

Students in the Carroll district may not get new textbooks until the end of October, spokeswoman Julie Thannum said.

"Due to the new system, orders that are usually delivered in August are just now being placed," she said. "We began as soon as the system opened on August 8th, and we are still placing orders."

Birdville ordered books Aug. 11, and most have arrived, spokesman Mark Thomas said.

"We did not know how much money we had from the state until the system opened," he said. "At that point, we had to develop our order based on the money available."

Digital materials are in the mix for many districts, which also submit orders for them.

"What's unprecedented this year is they have more flexibility in using the funding the Legislature has given them. For that reason it may be taking them a little bit longer to order." said Harcourt's Myers, who added that the new supplemental science projects approved by the state are all digital.

Students and parents still worry about transitional or older materials being used too long in the classroom, especially with the STAAR accountability tests being introduced to freshmen this year.

"As a parent myself, I have children who go to public schools," said Myers, who lives in the Houston area. "We've heard from our public school district that there may be shortages of some books. I worry about my senior without a calculus textbook."

Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Jessamy Brown and Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

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