Every year, school administrators find it tougher and tougher to pay the bills, but one local superintendent has found a way to cover costs without turning to taxpayers.
When teachers in Neil Leist's district need supplies, they don't go to the store-- they clean out a business.
Patricia Fraley runs CTTS in Sharonville. On Wednesday afternoon, she donated desks, computers, office supplies, and a wipe board to the Clermont Northeastern Schools District.
"School districts locally might not be in so much trouble if they were utilizing his practices," said Fraley.
Leist asks local businesses to partner with his district. Owners get the change to get rid of old equipment along with a tax write-off, and Leist gets school supplies.
His office in Owensville is proof that his plan works.
"Everything you see in my office, and the cubicles you see here and the treasurer's office, we picked up all of those at the Federal Aviation Administration when they shut down their office in Lunken," said Leist.
Take a trip down the hall in the middle school in Owensville to the computer lab and find another hot spot for donations.
"Ninety-percent of the things in this room came from the Ford plant in Batavia," said Leist.
And the school's kitchen? It's full of gadgets donated from the same plant. Including everything from cabinets to an electronic tomato slicer.
"If I had to put a price tag on everything that we actually got from Ford and that we use?" asked Terri Hoerth, food service director. "I would say probably around 40-grand."
In all, Leist said he's brought in $3 million worth of equipment and supplies in the last five years.
Leist said he came up with the idea soon after he started his new job as superintendent of the CNE district in 2007. Leist said administrators were about to put another levy on the ballot, but he asked for some time to come up with another plan. He then received an email from the Federal Aviation Administration, asking if he wanted to take a few items from their old building. Leist said he'd take everything.
"They were going to have to pay someone 12 to 15 thousand to come in and remove everything so they were trying to get it out as much as possible," said Leist. "I said I'll do you a favor. I'll take everything. If you give us everything, and that's how it all got started."
Think employees mind the second-hand goods?
"Where I'm from, you use everything until it's done," said Chris Smith, assistant principal of the middle school. "I think what we do is great. I have absolutely no problem using a hand-me-down. It doesn't bother me a bit."
Other districts are taking note.
Leist said he's received numerous phone calls from other superintendents looking to learn about his practices. This year, Leist wrote the book on savings. $uperintendent $avings $tragies... Stretching the Taxpayer's Dollar in Your School is a step by step guide on how other district leaders can implement his plan.
However, halfway through the process, his wife Candy was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She helped me write the book from day one and finished the last chapters in her hospital bed at the Ohio State Cancer Hospital. Even then, her first thought was helping the children.
"We had discussed a way we could give back to the school and a way we could give back to the community," said Candy Leist. "I knew while writing it, we were going to use that book for a scholarship fund."
The Leists created a scholarship fund. They've pledged to give one-thousand dollars to one student every year.
Leist said without his plan, the district would have certainly been forced to put a levy on the ballot.
"I know the computer end of it would not be near the end it is today," said Leist. 'We just would not have the money to do that. More than likely, there would have had to have been a levy."
Leist said the strategy is about more than saving more, but educating the children. Lately, he's started to focus on more educational partnerships where he asks businesses for donations in exchange for internships and work shadow programs.
Next week, Leist plans to meet with Ohio Governor John Kasich to share his tips.
As for what he does with any supplies they've received, but can't use? He said that he'll donate some items to other districts or he'll even hold auctions. The last one raised $11,000.
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