LONGMONT — Too bad they can’t print money.
Every month, taxpayers are footing a nearly $12,000 bill to rent a pair of industrial-strength photocopiers that St. Vrain Valley School District officials say are far bigger — and more expensive — than they can possibly justify.
Even the woman who runs the copiers rented by former district financial chief Ken Kirkland says the expensive machine “surprised” her when it arrived on her doorstep last summer.
There is little argument that the $11,000-a-month Xerox DocuTech 6135 is one of the best copiers that money can buy. But district leaders say the automobile-sized copier and a smaller, $900-a-month color copier are far bigger than they need.
“It’s a fantastic copier,” said Roger Driver, a financial consultant helping right the district’s finances. “It’s nice to have, but we don’t need (equipment) that sophisticated. We need good equipment. We don’t need this.”
The DocuTech 6135 can make 135 single-sided, black-and-white copies per minute. It is twice as fast as any machine at the Kinko’s copy shop around the corner and costs $4,000 a month more than a similar machine used by the Boulder Valley School District.
“I can’t get into (Kirkland’s) head,” Driver said. “I just don’t know why he did it. Ken decided to upgrade the system on his own.”
Together, the snazzy high-end copiers will saddle taxpayers with a bill for more than $700,000 over five years, at a time when classroom teachers have been forced to accept pay cuts, building temperatures have been lowered and programs have been slashed.
Further stressing the district’s coffers, Driver said, is the fact that Kirkland failed to include the copier costs when drawing up annual budgets.
The cost is not the only problem. Kirkland, the former assistant superintendent for business services, never got approval from the district’s elected board to lease the machines.
That is the same board that says Kirkland and former finance director Walker Nielsen busted the district’s budget and then failed to tell anyone.
Elected board members say Kirkland’s decision on the copiers mirrors other questionable spending calls, leaving them wondering if there are other financial bombs waiting.
Driver uncovered the problem while drafting next year’s budget for the St. Vrain Valley Board of Education’s review.
Board members are seeing red. They are furious about the cost and irked that Kirkland never consulted them.
“It’s not an appropriate copier,” said school board President Kathy Hall. “In the past, all such things would have come before the board. What went through his mind in terms of the size, I don’t know. I think it’s just another example of some mismanagement in the budget area.”
Hall said that if consulted, the board would have scrutinized the copier lease and questioned the need for such a high-end machine. The DocuTech 6135 is one Xerox’s biggest copiers and can be found in copy and print shops.
Since it arrived in June 2002, the DocuTech 6135 has made 1.1 million copies, while the color machine has made nearly 83,000 color and black-and-white copies.
The massive off-white DocuTech occupies its own room — plus a part of another — in the district’s Longmont administrative headquarters.
It is hard to miss. The size of a Subaru station wagon, with a flexible chimney to vent its heat outdoors, the machine on Monday was cranking out spelling booklets for students.
For those keeping track, the DocuTech 6135 can make a single-sided newsletter for every district student in a little more than two hours. Last month, it made a four-page dental clinic handout for students in about 10
Admirers say the machine can store complicated jobs and spit them out with little notice. The machine also collates, staples and talks to other computers and copiers.
The smaller DocuColor 12 copier/printer can make up to 12 color copies a minute.
Copy center head Judy McMillan said her jaw dropped when the DocuTech 6135 showed up at her office. After all, she had not asked for it.
“Ken saw what I had, and the next thing I knew ... I was getting all this equipment,” McMillan said. “I was very surprised when I saw the equipment, because it was such a step up from what I had.
“They brought it in, and I didn’t even know how to turn it on,” added McMillan, who needed several days of training and a crash-course seminar to get started.
The DocuTech 6135 was so much bigger than McMillan’s old machine that she had to move her office from a modular building into the main district headquarters for safety reasons. Workers were afraid the floor would collapse under the new machine.
McMillan, the sole copy machine operator, said she thinks the district could get by with smaller, cheaper machines, especially during such tight budgetary times. The district last fall laid off her assistant and ordered teachers to stop making so many handouts.
“I think with the spot we’re in, we could do with less,” McMillan said Monday, in between taking orders for print jobs, which have dwindled thanks to the district’s belt-tightening. “The leases are more than I can make in a month.”
The district already has dozens of smaller office copiers, but McMillan said Kirkland had a similar high-volume, high-tech copier at a previous job and wanted the advantages of the DocuTech.
The DocuTech’s flatbed scanner can copy and then store jobs in its massive internal memory, allowing McMillan to call up and print extra copies of old documents at any time.
Other features allow a limited number of users to make copies from their own computers and permit McMillan to fix minor errors in originals before copying.
McMillan said Kirkland told her the district could save money by centralizing its printing services instead of farming them out to private companies, such as Kinko’s.
In July 2003, the first month McMillan had both machines, she billed district departments $8,843 for copies. In March 2003, she was asked to make just $2,338 worth. District and state taxpayers pay $11,900 monthly to rent the machines.
McMillan said that while she is supposed to break even, she had to lower prices to ensure teachers did not patronize Kinko’s.
Each school office has its own copier, but workers are supposed to use McMillan’s machines for any order of more than 20 copies or for complicated binding and collating jobs.
Teachers “pay” McMillan 2 cents a page for black and white, and 24 cents a page for color. At Kinko’s, customers pay 99 cents for color copies and about 6 cents for black-and-white copies.
In reality, the district is simply shuffling money from one account to another when McMillan bills departments. And those costs do not include McMillan’s pay and benefits.
She said the new machines have allowed district workers to produce far more sophisticated publications, and several district workers said they are excited by their ability to print section tabs for binders.
At the Boulder Valley School District, which also is struggling with tight finances, the biggest copier can make 110 pages a minute and costs $7,400 a month, said spokeswoman Susan Cousins.
But since Boulder Valley uses that machine for both copying and vocational training, the BVSD can get state reimburser.