Lime Street Elementary School started the 2011-12 school year on a down note, with a weekly series of burglaries that looted the school of computers and classroom equipment and caused more than $100,000 in damage across the Hesperia district.
"Coming in that morning and seeing all that broken glass," said Maria Landgrabe, Lime Street's administrator/secretary, of the day the front office was broken into, "it was just awful."
Landgrabe lost a Macintosh computer and its associated 17-inch monitor, while the thieves ignored brand new Windows computers in the same room. Landgrabe used the computer to store nearly all of the school's administrative records. Now she works 12-hour days trying to recreate all that was lost, and has adopted a much more aggressive routine of backing up her files.
In all, the school lost two monitors, a pair of document cameras, three LCD projectors and a computer. There would have been more thefts, but the thieves were unable to break into several rooms they attempted to burglarized. The thieves targeted only the rooms with the most high-tech equipment, despite the equipment being concealed behind blinds and other obstructions.
"They knew exactly what they were looking for," Principal Carol Whitton said. "It really affected morale. It was unbelievable."
The school was able to borrow money from Hesperia Unified's risk management fund to replace some equipment and is using loaned equipment in other cases. Landgrabe is working on a borrowed laptop computer, for instance. But even once everything is replaced, the school will still be out a $2,000 insurance deductible in a time of ever-tightening budgets.
Fifth grade teacher Tim Wallace lost a document camera, an LCD projector and a speaker system he brought in from home. For about a month he lost the use of the projector, a tool he uses all day, every day, he said. The projector allows him to display content piped in from his computer.
"I had to do without some support elements for my lessons," Wallace said, "but there was an old school overhead projector that I found and started making transparencies again."
Hesperia Unified has increased security on the campus and reinforced some vulnerable areas in an attempt to halt the thefts on campus.
Beyond the financial loss and the academic impact, the thefts also scared Lime Street's students.
"It was very evident — there was a board covering the window," Wallace said. "They had questions and initiated discussions about it for a number of days. ... When they start to see a pattern (of repeated burglaries), they do start to get uncomfortable."
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Hesperia station and the Hesperia School Police are investigating the burglaries. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Hesperia station at (760) 947-1500, or call WeTip at (800) 78-CRIME. WeTip informants may be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward if their information leads to an arrest and conviction.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.