New Trier works to ease textbook sticker shock
Parent volunteers Amy Klein-Alter (left) and Gerri Newmark (right) gather books for New Trier High School students during the Aug. 2012 book sale. Officials hope the school's new iPad initiative will reduce student textbook costs. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Med
Updated: August 14, 2012 12:25PM
WINNETKA — New Trier parent Sara Aliabadi remembers being shocked when the textbooks and calculator her daughter needed freshman year rang up at about $1,000.
“It is a public school, and we weren’t paying for books before,” said Aliabadi, articulating the first-time reaction of many parents when they encounter a high-school book tab more akin to what they remember from college.
“Since then, we have gotten to know the school and it’s such a good school, we don’t mind,” said Aliabadi, who was buying books recently with her daughter, Zahra Dorestani, for a schedule of Advanced Placement courses.
The family has been able to shave costs each year as sisters passed on books and took advantage of the buyback option at the end of the year. Students can recoup 50 percent of what they paid for a new or used textbook, if New Trier is continuing with the same edition of the book the following year.
If New Trier discontinues a particular text but there is still a market elsewhere, Follett Corp., the bookstore operator, may buy it back at 10 percent to 35 percent of the original purchase price.
Parental outcries over textbook costs in 2009 prompted the New Trier High School Board of Education to request a study of shifting to a rental system. The School Board ultimately decided the upfront investment in book purchases and storage space would be unwise while publishers are making a transition to electronic textbooks.
“We would rather look to see where the eBook market is going rather than invest in that inventory,” said Paul Sally, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
For the upcoming school year, eBooks will be used exclusively in two courses: physiology and anatomy and topics of psychology and sociology.
Starting in 2010, the school began offering rentals in a limited number of books to help ease the strain on parents, who have other school fees to pay and may also be stretching to pay college costs for a sibling.
Sally said textbook costs have gone down during the past three years, in part because of rentals and use of electronic books in some courses. The eBooks often allow teachers to select certain chapters, rather than require that students purchase the entire book.
“It’s like buying a song versus the album,” Sally said.
New Trier also is closely watching new textbook adoptions to see if there are ways to keep the curriculum current with supplements, rather than scrapping one edition for another.
“When a publisher changes editions and the old edition goes out of print, there is sometimes little we can do about that,” Sally said. “There are times when we have to adopt a book because the old one is out of print and we don’t have enough copies.”
One of the more expensive texts this year was an advanced placement biology book for $210. While students could cut about $57 from the cost by purchasing a used text, rental was not an option. Many parents do take advantage of the option to purchase used, however.
“We do pull used books before new because they are less expensive and it’s better for the environment,” said parent Amy Klein-Alter, who worked this year’s book sale as volunteer.
One parent, who left the sale with two rented books and a $144 bill, said she’s learned to spread some costs over the school year by purchasing the literary books used in English courses when the teacher assigns the reading, rather than all at the start of the school year.
New Trier High School provides students and parents the ISBN numbers for all books on course lists, so they can shop around for better pricing on new and used texts.
The school contracts with the Follett Corp. to operate the in-school bookstore. The firm marks up the books sold at New Trier by 20 percent, the same percentage the school used when it operated its own bookstore prior to 2001.
When New Trier conducted a survey of area high schools three years ago, fewer than one-third required students to purchase their texts. Assistant Superintendent Sally said that purchasing textbooks allows students to actively read by underlining and annotating, often in the margins of the text. One key advantage of electronic books is that students can highlight sections and make notations at will, he said.