Solving a piece of the school budget puzzle


National group helps local schools cut costs

Frank Pinc / Chicago Parent Cathy Dunaway’s class uses puzzles to work on letter, number and shape recognition, as well as hand-eye coordination.

Kindergarten teacher Cathy Dunaway pulls out a hand-held timer and sets it on the table where her students sit, each with a colorful wooden puzzle in front of them.

"Do you think you can cooperate and choose your own?" Dunaway asks.

"Yes," the chorus of 10 little voices answers.

"Let’s not chitchat," Dunaway says. "Let’s work really hard so we can beat the timer."

On her mark, the students dump the letters, numbers and shapes out of their frames and begin trying to reassemble them.

Though they don’t know it, Dunaway’s students are working on their number, shape and letter recognition, as well as visual discrimination and eye-hand coordination.

The wooden puzzles, which might retail for $12-$15 in educational supply catalogs, are great classroom tools. And these puzzles were also a great deal. Dunaway, who works in Forest Park’s District 91, got them through the district’s membership in the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources. The association redistributes overstock and discontinued items to each of its 4,900 nonprofit members nationwide. More than 100 schools and districts in the Chicago area are members.

For a $575 annual fee, members receive a 200-page catalog every 10 weeks, with products ranging from computer software and stationery to roofing supplies. Each order costs $99, plus shipping. The goods are ready for shipping or pick up at the Galesburg, Ill., warehouse in three to six weeks.

With more than $129 million of inventory donated in 2002-2003, some 27,000 pounds of goods shipped out every day and an average of $19,000 in goods sent to each member every year, there’s plenty to go around. The association has some 7,800 donors, including 3M Worldwide and Rayovac Corp. In return for their donation, the companies receive a tax deduction.

Dunaway’s kindergartners don’t know about the association or the $25,000 in goods District 91 received the last year. They’re focusing too hard on their puzzles, making sure all the pieces fit.

Autumn Skelnik and Evonna Hudson work on turtle-shaped puzzles, trying to reassemble a multicolored turtle shell with letters and numbers.

"This one won’t fit," Autumn tells Evonna, pointing to a piece with the letter "y" on it.

"You gotta turn it around," Evonna says.

Autumn does, and the piece slips easily into place.

Soon the timer rings and the students switch spots, moving around the tables until each student has tried each type of puzzle.

Lorien Menhennett

Kids Eat Chicago

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