Appeared in print: Tuesday, May 19, 2009, page A7
By Jack Moran
Dozens of Eugene elementary students were forced to “unplug” Monday, after thieves broke into buildings on two campuses over the weekend and stole about 100 laptop computers and other electronic items worth more than $100,000.
Police ask anyone with information about the burglaries at Howard and at the campus housing both Harris and Eastside Alternative elementary schools to call 682-5171.
The Eugene School District is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the crimes.
At both campuses — which are situated several miles apart on opposite ends of Eugene — intruders shattered windows to crawl inside school buildings.
The burglars took about 95 Macintosh laptops from five first- and third-grade classrooms at Howard, located in north Eugene off River Road, at 700 Howard Ave.
Police said about a dozen more computers were stolen from the Harris-Eastside campus, located at 1150 E. 29th Ave. in south Eugene.
“We don’t know if the break-ins are connected,” Eugene School District spokeswoman Kerry Delf said. “These two schools are way across town from each other.”
Delf said a staff member at Harris-Eastside arrived at school Saturday to find that someone had broken into a building there.
The Howard burglary wasn’t noticed until Monday morning, Delf said.
The Howard thefts were particularly frustrating — not only because of the number of computers stolen, but because Howard is a “technology immersion” school where every student in first through fifth grade is issued their own laptop.
“It was a little bit overwhelming (Monday) morning,” Howard Principal Kim Finch said. “Our teachers had to adjust their lesson plans, which are based around (students’ use of) laptops.”
Finch said many Howard students don’t have computers at home, and that it is a “top priority” to get new laptops for students if the stolen ones aren’t recovered.
She said it’s unclear if the district’s theft insurance will cover the entire cost.
“The last thing any of us need with the budget crunch is to purchase new equipment,” Finch said. “On the other hand, this is something that is very important for our students and our staff.”
All of the stolen laptops are tagged with school district identification numbers, police spokeswoman Jenna LaBounty said.
Anyone thinking about purchasing a used computer can call police at 682-5115 to check its serial number to determine if it has been stolen, LaBounty said.
The weekend break-ins are the latest — and most significant — in a series of property crimes this year in which Eugene schools have been targeted.
In January, school district officials spent several thousand dollars to make repairs after metal thieves cut and stole a section of underground wiring that powered the lights at Cal Young Middle School’s athletic fields in north Eugene.
Later that month, a 13-year-old boy was arrested for lighting fires in three boys’ restrooms at Roosevelt Middle School, causing at least $2,500 in damage.
And nearly $10,000 in damage was done to Kennedy Middle School in January by vandals who damaged the school’s main circuit breaker and other electrical equipment.
It does look like an inside job....