published Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Howard is latest school hit by thieves


by Kelli Gauthier

GET INVOLVED

Anyone with more information on the burglaries at Howard or any other local schools is asked to call the Chattanooga Police Department at 698-2525.

The two burglaries this month at Howard high school are just the latest in what Hamilton County Schools officials are calling a "rash of break-ins."

Someone forced open a side window at Howard School of Academics and Technology on Monday morning, went into a television broadcast room and stole seven Apple iMac computers, police were told.

That theft took place after thieves got into Howard through an unlocked window Jan. 6, broke into the principal's office and stole 22 Dell laptops, police said. The computers were brand new in boxes and valued at $1,500 each, authorities were told.

Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said thieves have broken into Lakeside Academy twice this year, as well as into Westview Elementary, East Hamilton School, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Hillcrest Elementary and Barger Academy. The thieves typically take items that are "easy to dispose of throughout the community" such as flatscreen televisions, laptops, digital cameras and DVD players, Dr. Scales said.

"This is costing the taxpayers dollars. It's robbing our students of opportunities for good educational experiences," Dr. Scales said. "It's very difficult to replace (the computers). It's going to take a toll on what we can do instructionally in our buildings."

A small pickup truck was seen leaving the area of one of the recent Howard burglaries, according to police department spokeswoman Lt. Kim Noorbergen.

Howard Principal Paul Smith said he and other faculty members are following up on every tip they receive, but so far have not been able to help police recover the stolen items.

"These weren't my computers, they were for the kids," he said. "We're working very hard to figure this out."

Dr. Scales said he recognizes that the school system's buildings and security systems are, in many cases, outdated, but he said officials are working to make facilities more secure.

He plans to talk with principals and custodians to make sure everyone diligently locks all windows and doors, he said. Window shades also will be left open every night so it's easier to see inside the buildings, Dr. Scales said.

The superintendent said he is fed up with the "terrible situation" and frustrated that there likely are people in the community who know more than they're saying.

"In a lot of these cases, it seems like somebody who knows exactly what they're doing," he said. "Somebody familiar with the school."

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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