2009-09-24 / Local & State

Paper Becoming Passe In More Pennsylvania School Districts

By Daveen Rae Kurutz

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Thanks to a technological misunderstanding, Ursula White won't have any school pictures from her son's sophomore year to look back on. After the Upper St. Clair School District began communicating with parents electronically last year, White, a mother of two teenagers, missed an e-mail informing her about school pictures because she signed up for the wrong notifications.

"I think it's good the district can save money and paper, but as a parent, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't,'' said White, 55, of Upper St. Clair, about 10 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. "It's kind of frustrating, but I really do see the purpose behind it.''

Upper St. Clair is one of the latest school districts to go "paperless'' with parents. Districts are saving thousands of dollars each year by requiring parents to access important information, from grades to calendars to school handbooks, online. Some districts require parents to sign up for e-mail notifications; others simply make the information available on a secure portion of their Web sites.

While the method is cost-effective and environmentally responsible, it can be a hurdle for the technologically challenged.

The Plum Borough School District in Pittsburgh is sensitive to that.

"If a parent contacts us and says they can't print that, we make it available to them,'' said spokeswoman Dawn Lynn Check. "We hear feedback both ways. There's a struggle in that line of thought, because people are still led to paper.''

Lori Vickroy, a parent of two elementary-age boys and president of Plum's Pivik Elementary Parent Teacher Association, said she believes having hard copies of important correspondence increases the likelihood that both parents will read the information. But she prefers to go online.

"To me, it's annoying to have all that paper lying around,'' said Vickroy, 44, of Pittsburgh. "It's a tough sell because people like to have their information in hand.''

So do most folks, said Dave Mazza, regional director for the Pennsylvania Resources Council. While he lauds districts that have gone paperless, he said email hasn't prevented people from printing out most of the documents they receive electronically.

"We all thought that when the computer age came upon us, it was going to eliminate the need for us to have paper,'' Mazza said. "Sometimes, I think it almost makes you print out more.''

Paperless districts are confident that the overwhelming majority of parents have regular access to a computer, either at home or at a library. Those that don't, however, can request hard copies of communication from their districts.

In Upper St. Clair, district officials anticipate going paperless will save about $15,000 this year, while Pine-Richland spokeswoman Rachel Hathhorn said her district in Gibsonia, Pa., about 10 miles north of Pittsburgh, has saved about $30,000 a year since its three elementary schools went paperless three years ago.

In Pine-Richland, parents made a transition from paper folders sent home weekly to electronic e-mail "folders'' sent home biweekly.

"This is a tremendous tool for our parents,'' Hathhorn said. "We are communicating more, saving time and reducing costs associated with making thousands of copies monthly, while being environmentally conscious.''

For parents such as White, who has e-mail but doesn't log into it regularly, a learning curve awaits.

"I'm learning new things all the time, but it is kind of frustrating,'' White said. "But I see the purpose behind it, and I think people will get used to it.''

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