July 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Teachers Pay For Abc’s Budget Crunches Force Educators To Pick Up Tab For Extra Supplies

By The Spokesman-Review

With school still weeks away, teachers again are dusting off their checkbooks for classroom supplies.

As weary taxpayers scrutinize school budgets more carefully and districts scramble for money, teachers are finding their ABC’s and 1-2-3’s need out-of-pocket subsidies. For some, it’s part of an unavoidable budget pinch that has them spending on supplies like rulers, scotch tape and paper. For others, it’s a voluntary effort to extend their personality into the classroom to make learning more fun.

According to a National Education Association report released this month, teachers nationally spend an average of $408 of their own money on classroom supplies, books and materials.

In Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, teachers report spending anywhere from $500 to $1,500, depending on their own salaries and which grade they teach.

“In Idaho we don’t have a large tax base so we don’t have the money some other states may have,” said fifth-grade Winton Elementary School teacher Raina Bohanek of Coeur d’Alene. “To even approach a quality education we have to subsidize our own classrooms.”

Bohanek’s tax receipts showed she spent between $1,000 and $1,400 last year. Most of the money went toward items like cotton balls, Q-tips, and other art and science supplies. But she also spent on film, photo development, classroom library books, study units and storage equipment.

Across the border at Spokane’s Logan Elementary School, second-grade teacher Tamara Gilmour spent $1,200 last school year on books and extra equipment for teaching math - like dice and building blocks. She received $150 as her annual supply budget from the district for her class of 20 or so students.

“Mostly it goes toward building my classroom library and things to jazz my lessons up.”

Lynn King of Colville, Wash., said she spends at least $700 a year on instructional materials and student rewards.

The amount teachers spend generally fluctuates with whether they earn their family’s primary income and what grade they teach. Grade school teachers usually spend more.

Teachers’ spending habits don’t necessarily decline in richer districts where supplemental levies beef up supply budgets. In the Moscow School District, for example, each teacher receives $173 per student for supplies. That averages to well over $1,000 per teacher, per year.

“Even though we pride ourselves on wanting to give teachers money for supplies, they are very professional people who want the best for their kids and that often means dipping into your purse or wallet to make things special happen, like celebrations or other fun things in their school,” Superintendent Jack M. Hill said. “Even if we were to give them twice the amount, we do know they would still spend.”

Russell Elementary School kindergarten teacher Judy Pilcher of Moscow spends $700 to $1,000 a year, despite the comfortable allowance from the district.

“I never go to Wal-Mart … or the grocery store without picking up something for my class,” Pilcher said. “You know the next day you need macaroni and toothpicks so you pick them up at the store and don’t even think about it.”

It’s not just for fun and frivolities. Many teachers invest to be students for the summer, taking courses and workshops to learn new curriculum and teaching techniques, said Gayle Moore, community relations director for the Idaho Education Association.

“There are a lot of teachers who have bought the computers in their classrooms,” Moore said. “They often pay for school lunch for somebody or slip them an extra pair of shoes or an overcoat.

Coeur d’Alene High School math teacher Eileen Gruenwald bought her own computer to produce work sheets, tests, report cards and other classroom materials. She spends approximately $600 a year on supplies, calculators, statistics workbooks and lab materials.

A recent state investigation into the Bonner County School District turned up many complaints about the amount of their own money teachers were having to spend there.

“But after all the salaries, lights and necessities are paid there’s so little left,” said Rhonda Edmiston, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

The department recognizes the need for more flexibility and spending in that category, Edmiston said, but there are no easy answers.

Idaho teachers, on average, make $30,890 a year, well below the national average of $35,549. But new teachers in Idaho make just $20,071.

It’s those first and second year teachers at the low and of the pay scale whose pocketbooks suffer most.

“I think some of them are surprised at some of the supplies they assumed would be available that are not,” Bohanek said.

While aspiring students aren’t necessarily taught about such costs in their college classes, it’s something they know by the time they receive their degrees, said Christine Sodorff, teacher education and student services at Washington State University.

Teachers spending out-of-pocket is the norm rather than the exception, Sodorff said, and few teachers resent it, since it’s part of making their classroom a comfortable and welcoming learning environment.

“It’s part of the psyche of the helping in that profession. Teachers feel like, ‘well, if the district can’t provide this then I have to find a way to do this because my kids have to have it,” Sodorff said. “A good teacher’s classroom really becomes an extension of themselves…”

Often, teachers find ingenious ways to enhance their classrooms through volunteers or donations, Sodorff said.

Sandpoint Middle School teacher Julie Smith said she spent hundreds last year on paint, glue and construction paper. But she was aided by parents who donated color markers and rubber cement and the local drugstore, which volunteered free film and developing costs.

Art teacher Linda Navarre said the district gives each teacher $100 per year, which doesn’t come close to covering the costs - even though students are required to buy their own art supplies now.

“My husband and I buy all my scotch tape, staples, stapler, three-hole punch and rulers,” Navarre said.

“I limit the art projects to what my students can afford and then we do a lot of scrounging and begging.”

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