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Paper Grows On Trees, But There’s A Shortage Spokane Schools Weather Shortage, Prices Hikes Better Than Some

A nationwide paper shortage has doubled the price of paper used in schools over the past year, but most of the classrooms in the Spokane area have plenty of paper on hand.

School officials said last week they were warned about the impending shortage last spring, and they stocked up ahead of time.

However, schools are paying double the price, just like everyone else.

“We put all of our principals and staff on alert when we heard the price was going up,” said Al Swanson, business manager of the Mead School District.

Across the country, the shortage has forced some schools to ration supplies, or use scrap paper for note-taking. Teachers line up twice a day for their paper supply at one Boston elementary school.

Spokane area schools aren’t having such problems, although some are cutting back on the use of paper to save money.

A year ago, the Mead district was buying white paper for $15 a case through a cooperative school distributor in Seattle. Now, a case of paper is going for $29.95 from the supplier and up to $60 at discount retailers in the Spokane area, Swanson said.

Mead uses two railroad boxcar loads full of paper each school year, or about 1,700 cases. The price increase has cost the school about $17,000 more than last year out of its $43 million operating budget.

That doesn’t add up to a serious budget problem, but it is forcing the district to cut corners. Teachers are being asked to reduce paper use by 10 percent or more in Mead.

At Central Valley School District, officials bought one truckload of ivory or off-white paper to save money this year, said Vesta Rise, purchasing agent. The district uses four truckloads a year, she said.

Spokane School District stocked up on paper last spring, and so far hasn’t run out, said Hugh Davis, district spokesman.

Most area schools get their paper from the King County Director’s Association, a school supply cooperative.

Industry officials said a boom in the global economy, combined with a slowdown in the number of paper plants being built, has driven paper prices up sharply.

The paper market last boomed in 1989, and companies rushed to build new plants, but the recession began just as many of the plants began operating, causing prices to plummet.

“We invested a lot in capacity because the economy was very good, and then we went in the tank,” said Barry Polsky, spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group in Washington. “So now we have to pay off the loans we took out to open those plants” instead of building new ones.

In constant 1994 dollars, copier paper cost an average of $1,028 a ton in 1989, $700 a ton in 1992 and about $1,160 this year, said Harold Cody, a San Francisco analyst who publishes an industry newsletter.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Rising paper prices


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