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Going, going ... CMS will auction off 46,000 unused clear book bags as surplus

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Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
Instead of distributing the clear book bags it bought, CMS used scanners to flag metal in bags at high schools

A warehouse full of unused clear book bags, once intended for distribution at all Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools, will be auctioned off as surplus property if the school board approves the move Tuesday.

The district spent $442,000 to buy 46,000 clear plastic backpacks after parents and community members demanded action on gun safety. CMS saw a record number of guns confiscated during the school year that ended last week, most of them during the first semester.

The bags, ordered from a local Office Depot, arrived in February.

In early March then-Superintendent Earnest Winston acknowledged the plan was unpopular with many students and educators, and said his staff would start with a small pilot program before going further. Later that month, as widespread distribution was about to begin, Winston put the program on hold because staff discovered warning tags indicating the plastic could contain dangerous chemicals.

In April, the board fired Winston. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh took no action on the bags as the year wound to a close.

Saturday afternoon CMS media relations specialist Cassie Fambro emailed reporters who had been asking about the fate of the bags: "After exhausting options for return and resell, the superintendent’s recommendation to the Board of Education on Tuesday is dispersion of the inventory in surplus auction."

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Surplus auction list on Tuesday's CMS board agenda.

Fambro said Hattabaugh will not discuss the reasoning behind that decision until the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The agenda includes a list of surplus items up for auction, including 115 student desks, 10 TVs, 15 library carts and 46,000 clear book bags. The auction will be conducted online.

The book bags were among many safety strategies introduced this school year. Others include walk-through scanners at high schools, an anonymous reporting system for anything that could endanger students and stepped-up random classroom searches using the district's gun-sniffing dog.

Second semester saw a slowdown in guns confiscated, with 23 during first semester and seven during second semester. Two guns were found because of the scanners: One when a scanner flagged a loaded gun in a student's backpack and another when a student apparently stashed a bag with an unloaded gun on campus before walking through a scanner.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.