LONGMONT — A pair of Titanic-sized copiers is getting the heave-ho by the floundering St. Vrain Valley School District.
Consultants helping the district fix its finances decided the Xerox copiers were just too sophisticated for the 21,000-student system. They’ve ordered the machines ditched and have launched a review of the district’s copying needs.
The leases for the two machines — one a color copier and the other a industrial-sized DocuTech 6135 capable of spitting out 135 pages a minutes — are costing local taxpayers nearly $12,000 a month, money the financially ailing district can’t afford.
District copier technician Paul Downey said no one ever asked him if the new copiers were a good idea. The color machine arrived at district headquarters in summer 2001, and the bigger DocuTech arrived a year later.
“It was overkill,” said Downey, who repairs most of the district’s other copiers. “It was a lot larger than what we needed. Those machines can run millions of copies a month. We don’t have that kind of volume.”
Downey and other workers say they never requested the machines, which showed up shortly after a now-fired administrator started work.
In a letter sent Tuesday, district consultant Roger Driver told Xerox to take away its machines by June 30. TABOR rules that restrict government leases allowed the district to walk away from the deal without penalty.
“Please arrange ... for the removal of the equipment ...” Driver wrote to Xerox. “The district is currently evaluating its future utilization of our currently established copy center.”
Driver discovered the copiers as he began drafting next year’s budget. Investigating deeper, he found that the money to pay the copier leases had been left out of the district’s current annual spending plan.
Officials lay the blame for the copiers solely at the feet of former assistant superintendent Ken Kirkland, who they fired last week. Kirkland and a subordinate have been blamed for spending the district $13.8 million into the red.
Kirkland, who plans to sue the district, has refused to comment on the crisis or the copiers, which has forced the district to slash summer reading programs, lay off workers and has led pay cuts of more than 7 percent for all employees.
It also has forced a state bailout and spawned a number of new laws aimed at preventing the same thing from happening again.
Downey said he was not in on the decision-making that led to the copier leases.
“I was not consulted on it,” Downey said. “That was strictly Ken Kirkland.”
There’s little evidence the district ever used the machine’s full capabilities, which included stapling and collating and the ability to store jobs for future use.
To make matters worse, full-time repairman Downey can’t fix the machine if it breaks, because he’s not trained to fix it. That meant the district had to pay Xerox maintenance fees even though it already pays Downey to fix about 140 other copiers scattered through schools and offices.
School administrators have also bought or leased, or had donated to them, about another 10 machines that Downey can’t fix because he’s trained to work only on Ricoh and Savin copiers, Downey said.
Schools that ignored district policy and acquired copiers on their own are forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for maintenance Downey is already paid to perform.
“Schools get impatient because our replacement cycle is kind of slow,” Downey said. “Sometimes I find them hidden in the corners. Schools don’t ask. It’s one of those things where they get to the end of the year and have money left over. They just order what they feel they need.”
Russ Ramsey, the district’s assistant superintendent for learning services, said he recognizes that having a mix of machines isn’t the best policy, but he said Downey is frequently so busy that school administrators get frustrated and solve the problem on their own.
“It’s not a financial emergency for us,” Ramsey said. “Occasionally a principal runs across a screaming deal he can’t pass up ... and we don’t say no.”
Nevertheless, Ramsey said he is working to standardize copy machines to help minimize costs.
“It’s a very uncommon practice and we’re working to correct it,” he said. “We would like to have all our technology uniform across the district.”
Just as school principals sometimes ride off the ranch and buy other types of copiers, officials say Kirkland never gave the elected school board a chance to scrutinize the headquarters copier leases.
District spokeswoman Nancy Herbert said there’s no evidence Kirkland ever produced any documentation to support the new copiers. She said she remembers Kirkland touting the DocuTech’s abilities but never heard a discussion about the cost. Other district workers said Kirkland told them that centralizing copy expenses would save money and time.
“I believe that the functions of this equipment were discussed in advance,” said Herbert. “The capabilities of a system like this are quite elaborate (but) I believe this was a decision that was just made. I don’t believe anything was brought to the board.”
Herbert said the district has now launched a review of its copying needs, with recommendations to be made in about a month.
“What we’re going to do is study equipment options and come back with some type of recommendation that will suit our financial needs, and the needs of the staff and students, in a more cost-effective manner,” Herbert said.