The difference between a parent shopping for a child’s school supplies and a teacher getting ready for another school year is easy to spot.
“You know it’s a teacher because they’ll load up the entire shipping box,” said Tom Price, a shift manager at Walmart on Duportail Street in Richland, as he pointed to empty shelves where displays of glue and markers were recently stocked.
Back-to-school shopping might be great for retailers, but it’s rough for some families, who spend an average of about $100 per child on supplies, according to the National Retail Federation. Teachers may spend hundreds of dollars on their classrooms.
Government subsidies, charitable organizations and schools help defray costs, but some local officials are still concerned about the expense to attend school.
“That’s a lot of money, especially if you have two, three, four or five children,” said Jeanette Fields of Seniors Helping All Kids’ Education, or SHAKE, a school supply charity.
SHAKE provided almost 300,000 items to all public schools in Benton and Franklin counties last year, Fields said.
The Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin Counties recently gave backpacks filled with crayons, paper, pencils and other supplies to children in need. And in July, one retailer gave almost 500 backpacks full of supplies to Pasco schools, which do not require students to provide their own materials.
Stores point out that they offer sale pricing on some of the most common school necessities, from No. 2 pencils to three-ring binders.
But the school supply list for second-graders at Kennewick’s Cascade Elementary School will still set parents back about $70 at big box retailers, the Herald found. That list included typical items for a student’s desk such as pencils, notebooks and markers, but also classroom snacks and plastic bags for use in the classroom.
Middle-school supply lists tend to be less expensive, as students need fewer art supplies such as paint and markers. They may be required to provide higher-end items, however, such as clothes for gym class or calculators for math courses.
Supply lists often don’t cover backpacks, lunch boxes and the new clothes and shoes students need.
“I have a third-grader and a first-grader, and I spent $60 before backpacks and lunchbags this year,” said Becky Ames, president of the parent-teacher organization at Sunset View Elementary School in Kennewick. “School has become a very expensive endeavor for families. And school supply lists are becoming much more specific.”
Teachers receive about $300 from the state to outfit their classrooms. They sometimes receive donations from their school’s parent-teacher organization or some other grants, but its rarely enough, officials say.
“When I started out, I probably spent about $1,500 to $2,000 of my own money,” said Ken Hays, president of the Richland Education Association, who previously taught special education.
Most teachers will likely spend at least $500 of their own cash on their classrooms, Hays said.
The reason for the rising out-of-pocket cost? Teachers have to budget for basic items such as paper and whiteboard markers -- things that used to be provided by schools.
However, a new school year doesn’t mean that everything a child needs on the first day has to be new, said Principal Gail Ledbetter at Badger Mountain Elementary School. Items such as three-ring binders, pencil cases and scissors are needed at many grade levels and, as long as they’re functional, are suitable for reuse.
“I think people feel pressured to buy brand new every year and it’s not required,” she said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald
Helping students out
Here are a few places where anyone with excess school supplies can donate them:
w Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties, 582-9841
w Tri-City Union Gospel Mission, 547-2112
w SHAKE, which has donation boxes throughout the Tri-Cities.