SAN JOSE -- Parents are questioning the San Jose Unified School District and discussing security after burglars hit five elementary schools, escaping with computers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from four of them.
At the fifth school, Los Alamitos in the Almaden Valley, district security officers alerted by an alarm interrupted the thieves, who dropped a sack of laptops and escaped. That break-in occurred at 12:37 a.m. Nov. 22, just minutes after burglars swiped four new computers from Willow Glen Elementary.
"Parents are very concerned," said Maren Sederquist, Willow Glen PTA president.
The district has stepped up security measures, but spokeswoman Traci Cook refused to elaborate. "We don't want to advertise them," she said. She said the rash of thefts could be sparked by media coverage.
"We do have industry-standard security," she said, for instance, keeping portable computers in a locked closet in a locked room. However, the policies are recommendations; not all schools have space to implement all measures, and not all computer room doors have, for instance door-jamb security plates that make it more difficult to break locks.
Cook noted that the district's top priorities are instruction and student safety, and the thefts affected neither. "Students are safe and instruction is happening."
Even though the district is evaluating security, she said, "my guess is our money would be better spent on instruction rather than on expensive security measures."
Using the district's value of $1,200 it places on each computer, the losses come to $115,200. Schools hit in the past six weeks are:
Nov. 22, Willow Glen -- four desktops taken. The door lock showed signs of tampering, and a crowbar was found nearby. The alarm did not sound at the central monitoring station.
Nov. 12, Galarza -- 19 laptops taken from a second-floor lounge. With no signs of a break-in, investigators are looking into how thieves gained entry. A staff member discovered the theft, Cook said: "They opened the laptop cart and discovered it was empty."
Oct. 29, Simonds --At 2:30 a.m. an alarm sounded. Eleven desktop computers were taken, and later a window was found broken.
Oct. 28, River Glen -- A staff member discovered 31 iPads -- purchased with parent-raised funds -- and 31 laptops missing from the computer room. There was no sign of forced entry. Two weeks later, the two carts that held the computers were discovered at an Interstate 280 rest stop, Cook said. There were no computers on them.
Except for the River Glen iPads, all the stolen computers had been bought with district funds.
Parents at the targeted schools have exchanged emails and plan to meet, Sederquist said, to discuss security and responses.
"We'll do everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen again," Sederquist said. "Instead of just getting upset about it, we're going to do something about it."
Except for Willow Glen, alarms sounded at the break-ins. District security staff responded, but did not find anything amiss, Cook said, and apparently did not notice the broken window at Simonds.
She noted that schools are heavily used public places "You can have a policy to lock your doors. But multiply by 40 people (on each campus) times 40 schools. It's a lot to put in place.
"We've had a rash of bad luck with these thefts."
After the River Glen theft, Safeway Foundation donated 31 iPads. A Marin foundation donated $5,000 to the school. A Manteca baker donated 1,000 loaves of bread, and a Round Table Pizza parlor donated $1,000 worth of gift cards, both contributions sold to benefit the school.
"The support from the community has been amazing," said Michele Bertolone, technology chair of the River Glen parents group, Habla. Parents met with Chief Business Officer Stephen McMahon, she said. "The district has done what reasonably can be done."
After the burglaries, River Glen Principal Carlos Salcido filed a police report online, but the rest of the reports were called in to San Jose police, Cook said.
The burglars who escaped from Los Alamitos are described as two men in their late 20s, with dark skin, driving a white Nissan Sentra with no front license plate and a dealer plate in the rear.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.