These bargains were costly for schools

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

By Kris Kerr

Everyone loves a bargain. The feeling of obtaining something for only a small portion of its value is a heady rush.

I have a weakness for auctions. The way the auctioneer’s patter fills the space as the various bidders leap to top each other — I just find it exciting and fun, probably because I can participate in small bids occasionally, yet still feel very much a part of the high-stakes action that occurs among bigger bidders.

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However, I also abhor waste. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and instilled in me a belief in using everything and wasting nothing. So to say I was dismayed when I attended a public auction on Nov. 14 at the now-closed Mt. Zion Elementary School would be an understatement.

My wife is a teacher in Suffolk Public Schools, which offers me some insight into the everyday challenges teachers face, and the look on her face as we walked past rooms filled with perfectly good chairs being sold for 25 cents each was heartbreaking.

Yes, the chairs were used, and I’m sure some of them were damaged, but of the several hundred being sold, I’m sure there were more than a few in great shape that could have been used by teachers in the district.

My wife has been working at a desk with a broken leg for a couple of years now. There are more urgent needs in the school, so as long as it doesn’t actually collapse, she has to deal with it. The sadness in her eyes was quickly replaced by anger when she saw the two or three dozen desks in good shape that went for around $20 each.

File cabinets sold for $3 each. Some had obvious signs of heavy use, but more than a few were in great condition. At the last such auction held a year ago, I purchased 25 file cabinets and took them to my wife’s school for any teacher who desired one. All of them were gone in less than four hours.

There were four pottery wheels for sale. At around $1,500 or so for new ones, I wonder if these could have been repaired. The buyer that went up to $150 thought so. He took all four at that price and was ecstatic.

Most of the kilns there had seen better days, and the cost to repair or refurbish them might have tipped the financial scale to the side of procuring new ones. However, there was one smaller kiln in great shape that certainly could have found a home in one of the SPS art programs.

I could go on and on with examples. Eight pages of examples.

I’m sure there is a manpower cost associated with gathering input from multiple schools, cleaning and assessing what is available, and transporting items around the district. But I doubt Suffolk Public Schools made more than $15,000 from the sale that day.

Perhaps it’s time for the people downtown to roll up their sleeves and pitch in with some hard work, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Kris Kerr is a 20-year veteran of the Hampton Roads Modeling and Simulation community. He lives in Suffolk with his wife and two children, both of whom attend Suffolk Public Schools. Email him at