Pinching pennies for pencils|Teachers, parents work to supply classrooms on tight budgets

Published 10:10 pm Monday, August 3, 2009

By Staff
With schools receiving less state funding this year and parents cutting back in a tight economy, parents, teachers and schools are trying to stretch their dollars to outfit classrooms and students with the right supplies for the school year.
Teachers who normally get a state stipend for supplies will have to do without this year, and parents already pinching pennies are looking for other ways to save.
Gwen Minchew is buying as many school supplies locally as she can, but the total for her three children at W.S. Neal Elementary School is adding up.
W.S. Neal Elementary School Principal John Knott said the school has worked to put only essential items on the list.
Knott said some parents have asked if they could bring half of the list at the beginning of school and fill the other items later.
Knott also reminded parents that the school has a resource center that includes workbooks and instructional materials that they can use with their children. The resource center also has a computer and some school supplies, he said.
At Brewton Elementary School, teachers and administrators are employing a program begun last year to help ease the cost of school supplies for parents.
Parents who participate pay $30 per student for supplies, and the school buys the supplies in bulk.
Susie Collins, who is both a parent and employed with the Brewton City School System, said the program works well.
Brewton City Schools Superintendent Lynn Smith said the school system has asked teachers not to put non-instructional items on school supply lists, such as Kleenex or baby wipes. “They can only put things that are going to be used in the classroom,” he said. “We try to keep an eye on what we’re asking people to do.”
Lists often ask that if parents want to donate those items, Smith said, and many parents do.
Parents who are struggling to find school supplies themselves also understand that teachers are trying to outfit their classrooms, too.
Donna Bush, who has a child in elementary school and another in high school, said she knows teachers need the money for supplies.
In the past, every teacher in the county was allocated $400 for the purchase of materials and supplies for his or her classroom each year.
Escambia County Schools Superintendent Billy Hines said he is confident some of the veteran teachers have plans in place for the start of the school year, but fears shortages a few months into the school year.
Hines added that some teachers might have limited funds remaining from those allocated in last school year’s budget.
Hines said those teacher with money left have until Sept. 30 to spend the money or it’s gone.
Schoolwide supply budgets have also been cut.
Escambia County Schools Chief Financial Officer Julie Madden said that the upcoming budget, which takes effect Oct. 1, has no money earmarked for classroom instructional support per teacher unit including student materials ($525), technology ($350), library enhancement ($200) and professional development ($90).
Common purchase allocations, $200 issued to each school per teacher, were also cut statewide for the upcoming fiscal year. Hines said expenses such as copier lease payments and payments for other equipment are paid though common purchase allocations. Without funds it may make operations difficult for school administrators.
Smith said the city school board is going to try to help schools as much as possible with the loss of supply funds. One of the funding needs is keeping up with necessary software for academic programs such as Accelerated Reader and other instructional activities.
The school board is also sending each principal $5,000 they can use as they see fit, he said.
Lydia Grimes, Adam Prestridge and Kerry Whipple Bean contributed to this report.
Cities taking part in tax-free weekend
The State of Alabama will hold a tax-free weekend Friday and Saturday, Aug. 7-8, and Brewton and East Brewton will be participating in the event.
The cities are the only two in Escambia County to take part.
Shoppers who take advantage of the tax-free weekend in Brewton and East Brewton will only pay a 1-cent county tax on school supplies, computer equipment and clothing.
Exempt items include clothing under $100 per item; computers, computer software and computer supplies with a single purchase price of $750 or less; school supplies, school art supplies and school instructional material with a sales price of $50 or less; and books with a sales price of $30 or less.
Escambia County has traditionally chosen not to participate in the sales tax holiday because its 1 cent sales tax goes directly to support local schools anyway.
For more information on the 2009 sales tax holiday, including a list of localities that have notified the state of their participation status, visit