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Soaring Prices SendMany Schools Down A Smaller Paper Trail

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By Leslie Harris

In some Portland, Ore., schools this year, paper for the photocopy machines has become a scarce commodity.

"I have at least four schools where principals ration it and the teachers go to the copy machine carrying their paper to put in it," said Mike Hutchens, the director of purchasing and warehousing for the 57,266-student district.

In Portland and many other districts around the country, a jump in the price of paper in the past year has pinched already-tight budgets and led to efforts to conserve. Since early 1994, the price of pulp, the cellulose material paper is made of, has increased as much as 60 percent in some places.

But some industry experts say the worst may be over. Since late August, prices have begun to stabilize.

The increase has affected the Portland district's purchases of far more than copier paper, Mr. Hutchens said.

The price of janitorial products has also soared. For example, toilet paper cost the district $23.98 a case last year, he said. This year, it is $32.35. Paper towels that cost $8.88 a case last year are now $13.97.

A typical order of 13,560 cases of white copy paper at $32.75 a case now costs the district more than $44,000, Mr. Hutchens said. A year ago, when the paper cost $19 a case, the bill for the same amount of paper was only about $25,700.

In Gary, Ind., the price of some paper products has risen 10 percent since last year, said Carl Burt, the buyer for the 21,456-student district.

"Every month, the price of paper has gone up," Mr. Burt said. "We are trying to buy what we need but it puts a bind on us."

Most school districts do not know exactly how much they spend on paper each year, because the costs are spread among many different departments. But purchasing and finance officials in districts around the country said the increases in paper prices have been substantial.

The most affected items are high-demand products like copy and construction paper, Mr. Burt said.

For a typical order of construction paper--about 13,000 packages of assorted colors--the district now spends about $24,700, an increase of $1,300 from a year ago, Mr. Burt said.

Conservation Measures

To warn schools of the high price of paper products, the Des Moines, Iowa, school board sent memos out advising its administrators and teachers to cut back. The 31,000-student district recommended such conservation measures as photocopying on both sides of the page.

The price jump has hit the district hard, said Art Spuchis, the district's inventory specialist. "We are trying to use less paper and be more conscientious about what paper we are using."

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association, an industry trade group based in Washington, said the price of pulp jumped because of recent economic growth in the United States and abroad.

"With economic expansion, the demand for paper goes up proportionately," he said. "What happened is that you began to have an increase in demand in the U.S. economy and the European economy, and that overwhelmed the supply of pulp."

However, he noted, prices have become more stable recently. "We see that inventories are beginning to build up, which suggests the high rate of increase is behind us."

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