This article was published on page A1 of the Thursday, December 3, 2009 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.
A notebook sold to a student out of a supply machine at Mill Creek Elementary School bears a logo and slogan similar to those used in the Obama campaign last year. The supplier also distributed pencils with a similar theme.
Pencils and notebooks resembling President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign ads have been sold in at least one Columbia school and other public schools, causing the company that distributes the materials to travel around the state yanking the supplies out of machines.
“Don’t be mad at us,” said Greg Jones, a sales representative with Pencil Wholesale. “It was a total accident.”
Pencil Wholesale distributes supplies to six Columbia schools: Parkade Elementary, Cedar Ridge Elementary, Paxton Keeley Elementary, Mill Creek Elementary, Smithton Middle School and Hickman High School, said Linda Quinley, the district’s chief financial officer.
At Mill Creek, at least one pencil and a notebook with designs similar to Obama campaign advertisements have been sold out of a supply machine. Two families have complained about the politically tinged materials.
Three Missouri schools have contacted Jones since the beginning of the school year asking that the materials be removed, and Mill Creek Principal Mary Sue Gibson this week said she also planned to call Pencil Wholesale.
“I just don’t want to get into that political arena at all,” she said.
The bound three-ring notebook bears a photo of literal change — pennies, quarters, dimes and nickels stacked into piles. Above the photo, white text reads “CHANGE” over a navy background.
Below the photo, “WE CAN BELIEVE IN” sits above a logo similar to Obama’s campaign image — three red stripes separated by white stripes in front of a white circle with a blue background arching over the circle.
The supplies were designed by the art department of Harcourt Pencil Co., based in Milroy, Ind., Jones said.
“The art department was trying to be cutesy,” he said.
There was no response this morning to a phone message to Harcourt.
Jones delivers the supplies to about 800 schools. He remembers seeing the Obama-esque notebook when it was first designed, but “I didn’t think one thing about it,” he said.
Jones has agreed to go to schools that might have received the supplies and remove them.
“I wish I could do it over,” he said. “But, for now, I can just make it right.”
Harcourt plans to give Jones a refund on the supplies as well, he said.
But first, Jones has to find the supplies. Out of a case of 72 notebooks, three of the controversial notebooks can be found, he said.
“It’s turned out to be really ugly,” Jones said. “We’re trying to get them out of the schools as fast as we can.”
He also wants to be clear that neither he nor his company created the design. In fact, he said, he’s a registered Republican who voted for John McCain in last year’s presidential election.
“It’s a total nightmare,” Jones said.