The first weeks of September are always a hectic time for parents preparing their children to go back to school. But for teachers, back to school time can be a huge financial strain when they find themselves reaching into their own pockets to pay for those extra items to improve the learning environment for students. Today’s article looks at the issue from both the teachers’ perspectives and what the local schools and community are doing to ease that financial burden.
Courtney Foster is a third-grade teacher at Southwest Elementary School in Lexington. She said although her school administrator does give each teacher a small stipend for purchases, she often finds herself paying for those extra items herself.
“We get a little bit of money that we can spend, but it is normally for things like pencils, crayons and scissors,” Foster said. “When you divide that by 20 kids it doesn’t go very far. … A lot of it, you do have to pay out of pocket because there is not a lot of room in the budget to pay for things like that.”
She said she spends approximately $250 a year for basic supplies, as well as items for science experiments and art projects.
Kim Britt, principal of Southwest Elementary School, said allocating funds is a balancing act between what is most needed and what will have the most impact for teachers. She said school-wide learning software, educational subscriptions and staff development take priority over things like field trips, rewards and parties.
“For instance, our teachers like the Scholastic books,” Britt said. “I know that is a designated thing that we will have to order licenses every year for them. Scholastic is something that we need immediately even if we have to figure out how to pay for a field trip later in the year.”
Britt says she allocates between $15,000 and $20,000 per year for instructional supplies and materials for the entire school. Included in that is a teacher stipend between $100 and $150 twice a year for instructional items for their classroom through approved vendors.
Another expense she has to keep an eye on is copy paper which is used more frequently these days for classroom learning. She said Southwest Elementary School spends almost $600 for 20 cases of copy paper per year.
Britt said that each teacher gets one case of copy paper twice a year for supplementary items. The school provides teachers with copies of grade level class sets, practice guides and other instructional supplies.
“Now some may say that is too much and believe it or not, some say it’s not enough; however, Xerox paper is expensive,” Britt said.
TO TAX OR NOT TO TAX
All public school systems are funded through federal, state and local funds. Each school system is allotted a certain local dollar amount by the county and the school system then divides that amount among individual schools depending on the number of students they serve.
Zeb Hanner, Davidson County manager, said the amount school systems receive depends on how much tax revenue is collected.
“Davidson County determines how much (money) schools get based on our growth of tax dollars,” Hanner said. “We try to give schools an appropriate portion of the tax dollars we collect.”
The Davidson County commissioners adopted a per pupil amount of $1,210 for each school district for the 2019-2020 school year. Hanner said that although this is a $5.37 decrease in the per pupil allotment, the state has changed how it determines the number of students attending a school.
He said this year the State of North Carolina included students who left the district to attend charter schools in the public school systems’ numbers. Because of this, the numbers are higher, so the three school systems in Davidson County are actually getting more money this year.
Davidson Charter Academy, which opened for the first time last year, currently has 450 students that previously attended Davidson County, Lexington City and Thomasville City schools.
The North Carolina budget has not been approved by legislators, so all numbers are only an estimate until the state budget is approved.
The projected enrollment for Davidson County Schools for the 2019-2020 school year is 19,317. The total per pupil spending for the school year is $23,373,570. There are 36 schools in the Davidson County Schools district.
The projected enrollment for Lexington City Schools is 3,231. The total per pupil allotment for the year is $3,909,520. There are six schools in the district.
Thomasville City Schools’ estimated enrollment for the current school year is 2,369. The total per pupil allotment for this school year for Thomasville City Schools is 2,886,490. There are four schools in the district.
Hanner said since the allocations are based on tax dollars, the only other way to give schools more money would be to raise taxes. He said even if the tax rate was raised, there are a variety of organizations that compete for that money.
“We don’t raise the taxes because that is not what the people want,” Hanner said. “There is a lot of competition for that pool of tax dollars. We have the new courthouse project, we have 26 departments to operate, the airport, the community college and others. The commissioners’ job is to meet the need of the community the best that they can given the amount of tax dollars collected.”
OUTSIDE THE BOX
In some cases, teachers just do not have the resources to pay for items out of pocket, so they have to get creative and reach out to the community for help.
Marie Craven has taught kindergarten at Southwood Elementary School for the past 10 years. She said she helps supplement items in her classroom through crowd-funded projects on websites such as DonorsChoose.org and Teachers Wish List on Amazon.
Her most recent project was a joint undertaking with another teacher to purchase math and literacy activities. She said she also applies for a lot of grants, including one last year through the North Carolina Aquarium Society that funded Fort Fisher Aquarium to bring some of their animals to Davidson County Schools.
“We want to give them all different experiences in learning; everyone learns different,” Craven said. “It is an enhancement of what is provided. … I just came across it online, saw the opportunity and I applied for it. We try to look outside the school and try to look for all kinds of funding sources.”
Jennifer Penninger, treasurer at North Davidson Middle School, said the administration has come up with some creative ideas to encourage donations to the school.
She said the school has a raffle for year-long athletic passes for those who donate copy paper to the school. They also draw grade-level winners for VIP parking passes to avoid the daily pickup line.
“One of our biggest expenses is copy paper, so we did a ‘Pack the Principal’s Office with Paper’ event,” Penninger said. “They get a raffle ticket for each pack of copy paper they bring in, and then one name is drawn for each grade and that person gets an all access VIP pass for any sporting event throughout the year. At this year’s Meet the Teacher night, we had 20 cases of paper donated.”
According to school officials, North Davidson Middle School purchased 165 cases of copy paper last year at a cost of $5,100.
Penninger said the school also rents out the school’s spirit rock to raise funds to buy needed items. She said parents can rent the rock and paint birthday messages or celebrate achievements.
Mandy Barnes, is a parent of two students in Davidson County Schools, as well as an active member of the Parent Teacher Organization for North Davidson Middle School. She said she tries to donate school supplies such as Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, Kleenex and other non-instructional materials every month or so. She said she personally spends about $20 every other month, or about $100 a year, on supplies that she gives to the schools.
“I know how hard it is on the teachers when it has to come out of their pocket,” Barnes said. “A lot of times, parents don’t understand, they think these things should be provided by the school, but they just don’t have the money in the budget for it. I understand there are those parents who can’t do much, but overall I feel like parents should step up and help out, even if it is just five or ten dollars in extra items every once in a while.”
She said the PTO organization often uses their funds for larger purchases, including copy paper and other supplies for the teachers
// COMMUNITY SUPPORT
A lot of times, schools and teachers depend on local organizations to stock their supply closets or to provide much needed items. Several organizations in Davidson County have held supply drives to provide items to the schools, including the Salvation Army of Davidson County, Dollar General, Walmart, the State Employees Credit Union and other organizations.
Dennis Cave is the founder of V4L, which stands for Veterans for Life. The veterans support group recently collected $600 in school supplies for Davidson County Schools. He said the organization members feel it is vital to give back to the community, as well as to show support for the teachers.
“We feel it is important because schools need support, just like our veterans need support,” Cave said. “These teachers are doing the best they can and we will do what we can to make their jobs easier.”
Peggy Barnes, president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority of Lexington, said their organization holds an annual school supply drive to donate to Lexington City Schools. She said it is one of the missions of the organization to connect and support local school systems.
“We are committed to our youth that they have the tools they need through their educational journey,” Barnes said. “We do this every year because we understand that our teachers do not get paid nearly enough and we want to make sure that our schools are getting what they need.”
Foster said although teachers do find themselves buying things out of their own pocket, sometimes the best way you can help a teacher is by just volunteering. She suggested parents or other interested parties should contact their local school to see what is needed.
“Sometimes it is not even the material things that we need the most,” Foster said. “We need subs and teacher assistants. We don’t have the money to have an assistant in every room, so just giving of your time would be a great help.”
Sharon Myers can be reached at (336) 249-3981, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org