Ga. Probing Textbook-Sales Practices in Four Districts
The Georgia inspector general’s office is investigating textbook-sales practices in four school districts, following allegations that a textbook salesman offered free materials or reduced prices to larger districts.
State law requires that textbook publishers offer the same prices and considerations to every district. The rationale is to allow smaller districts to get the same deals as larger ones that buy in volume.
The state department of education has asked the state auditor to review textbook purchases in the Atlanta public schools and the DeKalb County, Gwinnett County, and Richmond County systems, said Kirk Englehardt, a spokesman for the education department.
"At this time, we are not implying that the districts have violated any rule or law," Mr. Englehardt said. "We want the investigation to run its course first."
State Superintendent of Schools Kathy B. Cox notified the New York City-based Macmillan/McGraw-Hill of the investigation in an Aug. 9 letter. If the allegations of unequal treatment are found to be true, the company could lose its contracts in Georgia for up to three years, or might have to pay restitution to local systems that overpaid for textbooks, she wrote.
"We believe that we were working within the rules and regulations of the state," said April Hattori, a spokeswoman for Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. "We are willing to answer any questions that the state may have in this matter."
Brian Pollard, a former sales representative for Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, complained in letters to state officials that his company gave free materials to some districts, but not to others. He maintains that about $5 million in "freebies" were given to the DeKalb County schools between 1997 and 2002.
Mr. Pollard, 61, said in an interview that he had worked for the company for more than 18 years. He was laid off because he exposed the company’s practice of offering "free with order" materials to the larger districts, he maintained.
But Ms. Hattori said he was fired, in November 2002, because of "employee problems."
Mr. Pollard, who sold textbooks to smaller districts, said his sales decreased because he was not able to give his clients the same deals that the larger districts received.
Mr. Pollard said he complained via the company’s hotline, but said his supervisors informed him that his complaint was unfounded, and that if he discussed the issue further he could risk his job. Ms. Hattori disputed that assertion.
State law permits publishers to provide some educational materials at no charge, according to Judson H. Turner, the general counsel for the Georgia Department of Education. They include teachers’ manuals, for example.
Districts sign contracts with publishers and then should notify the state, which pays for the textbooks, about the agreements, Mr. Turner said.
"Some of the struggle that the department has been faced with is that we don’t get the documentation needed" to ensure that the arrangements are equitable, he said. The current investigation will involve an examination of the contracts, he noted.
Jim Robinson, who oversees textbook purchases for the DeKalb County schools, said the 98,000-student district did not receive favorable treatment in its purchases. The only freebies it received were teachers’ manuals, he said.
Joe Manguno, a spokesman for the Atlanta schools, said district officials were aware of the investigation.
"We don’t see ourselves as the target in this investigation," he said, adding that the 51,000-student district has a code of ethics to which it adheres.
Sloan Roach, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County schools, said the 135,600-student district had not received any formal requests from the state about its textbook purchases, but would cooperate fully with the state in its review.
Officials with the Richmond County schools did not return calls for comment.
The laws on textbook-sales practices can be complex, according to Stephen Driesler, the director of the school division at the Washington-based Association of American Publishers.
"The rules are confusing. Every jurisdiction has different interpretations of what is and isn’t permitted," Mr. Driesler said. "It is perfectly conceivable that people do not fully understand how to apply the law, or could misinterpret what were the limitations of the law."
Vol. 24, Issue 1, Page 5Published in Print: September 1, 2004, as Ga. Probing Textbook-Sales Practices in Four Districts