Furniture trashed due to lapses in district policy


By Zora Lotton-Barker, News Editor

Both Lawrence High and Free State teachers struggled to find furniture at the start of the school year.

School district policy states that when it purchases new furniture, items being replaced are hauled to a warehouse to be evaluated and based on the condition, they may be reused elsewhere in the district, sold via an online auction, donated or recycled.

Yet, nearby residents could watch a steady stream of items disposed of outside LHS.

Shawn Daughtery, who lives across the street from Lawrence High, reported seeing furniture being put into the dumpster all summer.

“I observed cabinetry, bookshelves, various woodwork pieces being carted off in personal vehicles as well as being dumped in large dumpsters — the type of dumpsters salvage companies use,” Daughtery said. “I’m sure the salvage company has a contract with the school district that allows them to do whatever they want with all of this. However, some of the furniture seemed intact prior to being dumped. It seemed a waste.”

USD 497 sent usable items the district no longer needed, including tables, desks and chairs, to an online sale or for donation to Habitat for Humanity and Peaslee Tech, according to Julie Boyle, the executive director of communications.

“Items that could not be reused, especially if there were safety concerns with their condition, were recycled,” she said.

Despite this, several teachers report usable furniture being tossed.

Laurie Folsom, the journalism teacher at Free State High School, was walking into school in August when she found her classroom tables broken into pieces and shoved in a dumpster.

The tables had been bought by the district brand-new four years ago.

“They had been broken apart, and instead of disassembling them and using them elsewhere in the district or in the building, they had literally been broken apart in order to fit in the dumpster,” said Folsom, who is also president of the Lawrence Education Association.

Folsom recalled that the architect who designed the space estimated that each of the four tables cost $3,000.

“I’m just frustrated,” Folsom said. “I don’t understand that level of waste, and for it to happen in this one situation I am aware of, it could have been extrapolated to any building in the district. Every one of our buildings in the district has been touched by renovation in some way. If we have wasted $12,000 in one situation I know about, then how much are we wasting elsewhere?”

Not only have tables, and other furniture been thrown away, but greenhouses as well.

During recent rounds of construction, two greenhouses were removed at Free State. A new greenhouse was placed in a new location. Free State Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Julie Schwarting was told that the larger of the two greenhouses was given away in the summer of 2018.

“The ultimate fate of the large greenhouse is unknown, but I was told by a Free State parent that an individual from the community happened to be driving by as a crew was dismantling the greenhouse and that person asked if they could have it,” she said. “Apparently the greenhouse was given to them on the condition that they haul it off.”

At Lawrence High, journalism teacher Barbara Tholen reported losing a bookshelf and desk that she marked to stay.

“Last year, when we were getting ready for the move, I knew that the new space was going to be a lot smaller than what I had, which was pretty big,” Tholen said. “I had a lot of stuff and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to keep all of it. I really thought a lot about what I wanted that new space to look like and what I needed to keep.”

She planned to have a large bookshelf, like those in the school library, moved to her room in the Butler Building.

“So, then I’m moving in, and you are kind of hunting down your furniture in this big room, and I was hunting for a long time and I could not find my bookshelf,” Tholen said. “It was really, really frustrating because that’s what I was going to put everything on.”

Tholen asked district workers if they knew where her bookshelf could be and was told that it had probably gone.

“I spent all of this time hunting that day, and I finally ended up talking to someone from the district — one of the people who would have been part of moving stuff initially,” Tholen said. “I said ‘OK, well is it possible that this is still sitting over in the district warehouse?’ and I described it, and they said, ‘Oh, that probably got dumped out of the back of a truck.’ That was really disappointing for me because I had other things that I could have labeled for them to move, but I was told, ‘Only label what you really need.’ ”

The library bookshelf wasn’t the only piece of furniture that Tholen lost in the move either.

“I’ve had other things that have gone missing, too,” Tholen said. “My desk has still never shown up, along with other stuff that I had. These were all things that I labeled. I mean, I labeled every single chair that I had to have moved. I don’t know what’s happened to a lot of that stuff. The worst part is that bookshelf.”

AP Environmental teacher and Advanced Biology teacher Lisa Ball lost several pieces of furniture as well.

“I don’t know what happened to all of the furniture but I did see a few pieces for sale at the ReStore shop this summer,” Ball said. “I never got some of my filing cabinets back. I just wish that the architects would have taken more time to talk to teachers about what types of furniture are most functional for the classes they teach. I am not a fan of the [new] teacher desks, which are actually just tables with a small two drawer cabinet. This is the only locking space I have in my classroom right now, and it is very small.”

When asked about the furniture policy after having heard about these specific incidents, Boyle reiterated that the district had no knowledge of furniture being thrown out.

“None of the concerns that you have shared in your email have been reported to district personnel involved with packing, moving and storing furniture,” Boyle said. “If a teacher witnesses a district employee violating board policy, they should report it to their supervisor for investigation.”