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Vandals Create Big, Ugly Bill For Taxpayers

Fri., Aug. 16, 1996

Spokane public schools could hire two more teachers with the money spent to clean up after vandals in the past year.

School District 81 taxpayers spent more than $91,000 in labor costs alone to paint over graffiti, replace shattered windows and clean up other messes left by vandals at 49 schools.

School administrators are pressing principals to come up with plans to prevent such destruction, especially at the schools with the worst problems.

“It just kind of makes your head spin when you think about it,” said Larry Parsons, area director for northeast Spokane schools. “It’s the equivalent of two teachers we lost over something as stupid as vandalism.”

District Superintendent Gary Livingston called the expense a significant “waste of taxpayers’ dollars” that must be prevented.

“Kids need to understand, this is costing their parents a lot of money,” he said.

The cost of materials, such as new windows, isn’t included in the $91,686 labor bill and isn’t available.

This is the first time the district has tracked vandalism expenses. Maintenance Director Richard Laughbon believes the problem is getting worse.

Principals say most of the money is spent fixing sprinkler heads kids kick over at night, removing spray-painted graffiti and replacing windows shattered with rocks and pellet guns.

Few vandals are forced to pay for the damage because they usually sneak onto deserted school grounds at night and are never caught.

Student vandals who are caught are disciplined and must pay restitution, Laughbon said. Police are sometimes notified.

“It’s often beyond your control because it happens when no one’s here,” said Jonathan Bentz, principal at Ferris High School.

Vandalism at Ferris, where expensive, floor-to-ceiling windows were broken, cost taxpayers $4,581 last year.

Once school starts next month, principals will meet with each other, then with community residents to try to find ways to stop vandalism, said Parsons.

“The solutions are going to come from individual communities,” he said.

At Logan Elementary, where vandals struck 20 times last year at a cost of $4,627, Principal Pat Lynass suggested starting a block watch with neighbors near the school grounds.

“You can’t sit and look out the window the whole time,” Lynass said. “We could turn it around and say, ‘Parents, do you know where your kids are?”’ Chase Middle School in south Spokane and Rogers High in northeast Spokane racked up the highest vandalism bills.

At Chase, 4747 E. 37th, 51 incidents - mostly damaged sprinkler heads - cost the district $9,070. Rogers was vandalized 46 times at a cost of $8,319.

Wallace Williams, principal at Rogers, suspects some of the damage is done by students of other schools who view Rogers as a rival.

He hopes community members who witness vandalism will call a new parent resource office at the school to report it.

“At times, people are more willing to do that than talk to school employees,” Williams said.

At Chase, Principal Alison Olzendam doubts the scores of broken sprinkler heads are student vandalism. She suspects most are broken accidentally when people jog or play on the 25-acre school grounds.

The 2-year-old school had just one incident of graffiti last year, she said.

Nearly every District 81 school was vandalized last year, some only a few times and others dozens of times.

John Helmlinger, buildings and grounds director for Tacoma schools, said Spokane’s $91,000 vandalism bill doesn’t surprise him.

“People just don’t realize how it accumulates,” he said. “We have almost a full-time guy on graffiti - a painter.”

The district, comparable in size to Spokane, spent $20,000 last school year just to replace broken glass.

But Parsons, the Spokane-area director, said the expense is far too high.

“People are going to be shocked,” he said. “That’s what it’s going to take is for all of us to say ‘Whoa, that’s enough.”’

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: School vandalism

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