That’s what Newark’s Weequahic High School did this time last year.
The school hired Minuteman Press of Union to do the job, said shop owner Jim Lawrie. And nearly a whole year later, Lawrie was still waiting to get paid.
“I have been sending invoices since then and following them up with phone calls, all of which have been ignored,” Lawrie said in an e-mail. “How does a small-business owner like myself collect a debt from a government agency? Is there a procedure in place or do I have to send the debt to a collection agency like any other customer?”
Lawrie said he was contacted about printing 2,000 programs for the school last June, and the school agreed to the $2,527 fee. A school employee provided the text and the artwork, and Lawrie got to work.
“The job was completed on time and delivered to the school, and we received a check for our services,” Lawrie said. “That same day I received a call from the principal, Mr. Tonero, complaining of the many spelling and grammar mistakes and asking me to reprint the job at my own expense.”
Lawrie said that he explained to the principal that the files — and misspellings — were provided by school staff and that Lawrie’s company had nothing to do with the text. Lawrie said a faculty member even approved the job, signing a proof of the program.
John Tonero said it would be very embarrassing to him to give the booklets out at graduation because of the misspellings, and he asked Lawrie to reprint the job for free, Lawrie said.
There wasn’t much time. Graduation was the next day.
Lawrie said he explained again that the school was responsible for the errors, but he said he could complete the job if he stayed at the shop and worked all night long.
“I explained to him that there would be a cost to reprint them, but that under the circumstances, we would do the reprint for the cost of the paper, plus rush charges,” Lawrie said.
The discounted bill would be $1,166.
But money was still an issue.
Lawrie said Tonero wanted an even lower price.
“The guy was begging me, saying, ‘We’ll give you all this other business,’ ” Lawrie said. “That’s like a ‘pay-to-play’ come-on.”
Hoping the job would translate into more jobs in coming school years and understanding that school budgets are tight, Lawrie, a former high school history teacher, said he agreed to another discount of about $700. The final cost would be $458 and one very late night for Lawrie and his employees.
The principal had one more stipulation, Lawrie said. Because the budget for the school year was already depleted, Lawrie would have to wait until September to be paid.
“I reluctantly agreed,” Lawrie said.
He did the job and the programs were ready in time for the ceremony.
After the job was complete, Lawrie sent a new invoice to the school. September came, but there was no payment.
He’d leave messages at the school for Tonero, but his calls were not returned, Lawrie said. This went on all year — more invoices, more calls, no payment, no response.
Late in the fall, Lawrie wasn’t feeling charitable anymore and he eliminated the $700-plus discount, sending new invoices for the full $1,166.
“I could have started charging interest, but I didn’t,” he said.
Still, no response from the school.
On May 9 — about the time when new orders for 2011 graduation programs would be expected to arrive — Lawrie decided it was time to go over the principal’s head. He sent an e-mail to the district’s business administration office.
He said he received an e-mail the next day saying the matter would be resolved.
A few days later, he received a message that the school’s principal called.
“When I returned his call, I got the usual message, that Mr. Tonero was too busy with school-related matters and couldn’t come to the phone,” Lawrie said. “I spent the rest of the day trying to get through to Weequahic High School, but nobody would answer the phone.”
By May 25, Lawrie said he still hadn’t spoken to anyone. He sent another e-mail. No response.
He sent another e-mail to the business administration office on May 31 — the same day he contacted Bamboozled. Shirley Zachary, the district’s assistant business administrator, replied via e-mail and asked Lawrie to call her.
During that call, Lawrie said Zachary asked whether the principal could call him to discuss the matter.
“I told her I didn’t see any reason to talk to him unless he was going to tell me where and when I can pick up my check,” he said.
A few more days passed and Lawrie heard nothing, so Bamboozled called Tonero. He did not return the call.
We next called Zachary, and she called back in minutes.
“(The payment) is what we’re working on. We’re working with the principal to get him paid and we’ll have this resolved by Tuesday (June 7) at the latest,” Zachary said. “He’ll get whatever he’s entitled to.”
We asked why it had taken nearly a year to make the payment happen.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “We just recently got involved although they’ve been going back and forth for some time. We will get it resolved.”
Then on June 6, Bamboozled got a call from MaryAnn Armstrong, Tonero’s assistant.
She said Lawrie hasn’t returned calls from the school regarding the payment.
“His work was so excellent that we wanted to talk to him about this year’s programs, but you say he’s working with the business administration office? So that point is moot. Sometimes attitudes get in the way of getting productive,” Armstrong said.
But the next day, as Zachary promised, Lawrie reported he received a hand-delivered check for the full amount owed.
Lawrie said he’s very happy to have the payment, but to date, he said, he hasn’t been contacted to do any other jobs for Weequahic High School, whose graduation is scheduled for June 27.
“I don’t think they intend to do further business with me,” he said.