June 16, 2019

School group not soft on toilet paper issue

CALAIS – While many educators are focused on the teacher shortage and what might be necessary to make students competitive in the new millennium, the Calais School Committee engaged in a discussion Tuesday about that absorbent paper made famous by Mr. Whipple.

While Mr. Whipple became famous for squeezing the Charmin, the Calais committee is still agonizing over which brand to use.

Flushed with the success of having successfully reached contract agreements with the staff, committee members set June 3 as the date for graduation.

The discussion then turned to the next seemingly innocuous item on the agenda, “Unisource and Bard Industries.”

“Both Unisource and Bard Industries provide materials [for the schools] including paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning agents,” Superintendent May Bouchard said with a straight face.

School committee member Billy Howard placed the item on the agenda because he was sensitive to cost issues. “We are paying a lot of extra money for what we’re getting,” he said. “I don’t want to really try it as much, I’d rather see first hand myself the difference [between the products].”

Last year, Bouchard said, the school department purchased some products, including paper towels and toilet paper, from Bard. She said although the school district was able to squeeze out a savings, users were not happy.

The superintendent said she called Washington County Technical College and learned from officials that they had switched back to Unisource products. “What didn’t they like, May, the quality?” school committee member Nancy Gillis asked.

Chairman Regina Taylor, her face red, turned toward high school teachers at the meeting and asked, “Have you had any experience? Did you guys have any exposure to the Bard versus Unisource?” That brought laughter from the group and some side comments.

Bouchard explained the problem was youngsters had played with the Bard paper towel dispensers. “They were having fun pulling it down,” she said. “So it ended up being expensive.”

Trying to keep the discussion on a serious note, school committee members agreed they were interested in saving money.

Member Anne Perry said the savings could be used to purchase textbooks. Faced with a difference in softness, as well as the issue of possible waste, the school committee directed Bouchard to explore an arrangement whereby all school districts in Washington County would purchase their supplies as a group.

Bouchard said she had spoken with Eastport Superintendent Joseph McBrine and they discussed purchasing paper supplies, as well as fuel oil, as a group.

With the threat of fuel oil prices rising to more than $2 a gallon this winter, school committee members agreed that group-buys might save money.

“Do we want a presentation from Unisource and Bard and have the janitors come in and tell us what their experience is?” asked Taylor.

The school committee members agreed that would be a good idea. Asked who would do the testing, Taylor said with a laugh, “I’m not going to say.”

Joining in the laughter, Bouchard suggested, “Maybe we need to hire an outside consultant.”

She suggested they use newspaper. “We wouldn’t have to pay anything,” she said.

“Yeah, seeing that Sears has no catalogue any more,” Perry joked, recalling those days when the handy-dandy catalogue was in every half-moon outhouse.

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