Leo Alvarez recently sent reams of paper with his daughter to Lakewood Elementary School. Her teacher had apparently told the girl there was no money for paper, and the class really needed both the lined and graph variety.
Lodi Unified School District administrators have indeed looked at places to trim the district's budget as they continue to struggle with a multi-million-dollar shortfall despite voting to lay off personnel, close one school and prohibit out-of-town travel without superintendent approval.
Galt Joint Union High School District is looking at making a 5 percent across-the-board cut to its supplies for the next school year. According to a report, that would equal $4,000 at the administrative level, $2,000 for maintenance and $15,000 for school sites.
LUSD Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer has said that personnel has generally been responsive to curtailing its supply use in both the administrative office and the classroom.
But with the economy hitting schools, it's a situation playing out at districts across the country.
The Columbia (Mo.) Public School Board voted to reduce school supply purchases by 10 percent, while a Manchester, N.H. newspaper is calling on its local schools to trade advertisement with local companies to pay for such neccessities as pens and pencils.
And, in Yuma, Ariz., one school district has put its request for supplies on a campus marquee. Simply, it reads, "No money, please donate supplies."
Basic school supplies
- Glue sticks (at least three for the year)
- Scissors (blunt end for younger kids, pointy for older
- Ballpoint pens
- No. 2 pencils
- Colored pencils
- Pencil sharpener (hand held with a top to collect
- Large pink eraser
- Water-based markers
- 4-oz. bottle of white glue
- Three-ring binder
- Loose-leaf notebook paper
- Pocket folders
- A ruler with English and metric measurements
- Scotch tape
- Facial tissue
Additional supplies for children in elementary school
- Box of crayons
- Water color paints
- Drawing paper
- Construction paper
- School box (for storing supplies)
- Small bottle of hand sanitizer
Additional items for middle-school and high school students
- A calendar for time-management and for scheduling
- Two combination locks (one for a hall locker, one for a gym
- Binder dividers (the kinds with pockets are good for loose
- Several three-ring binders (some teachers will require a binder
to be used exclusively for their class)
- Folders to fit into binders
- A small notebook to record assignments
- Pencil case to fit into binder
- Red ink pens (some teachers have students do peer
- Index cards, ruled and unruled
- Calculator (Check with the math teacher first before investing
in an expensive calculator. Graphing calculators, for example, are
required in some middle school and many high school math classes.)
But as the local districts are tightening their budget belts, is it fair to turn to parents who are also feeling the pinch as both unemployment and foreclosure figures are at a historic high?
Nichols-Washer says no.
"We have free and public education. That's the state law," she said, adding that requesting parents to pitch in is not fair for a family who can't afford it.
"(Asking for donations) is just something we can't do. That's what parent-teacher associations are for."
The California PTA has reported that nearly two-thirds of its 500 groups have been asked by schools this year to provide more money for basic supplies, including pencils and books, or speciality programs like the arts.
But in Galt, elementary Superintendent Karen Schauer said the district has always supplied the basic classroom supplies.
"In addition, teachers provide lists of additional supplies such as felt pens, glue sticks and colored pencils," Shauer said.
"Parents have been supportive with these voluntary requests and at times, purchase materials that serve more than the needs of their own child. This proves even more important in challenging economic times."
Instead, the Lodi district has frozen most purchase orders and is looking at new ways of buying, perhaps through a centralized location to get the best price. And, yes, adminstrators are asking teachers to recycle paper.
"Turn it over and use the back. Use what you have on-hand first," Nichols-Washer said.
"We're not saying you can't have supplies. We're saying, 'What do you need? What is essential?'"
Payroll vs. pens
The district's current budget issue is cash flow, and Nichols-Washer said last week that she would rather conserve supplies than have to issue I.O.U.s for payroll.
"That's really the bottom line," she added of cutting back on the non-essentials. "It's nothing different than what you would do in your own household when money is tight."
Still, some parents like Alvarez and Shari Manza have gone ahead and picked up supplies for their children's classrooms after hearing from teachers what was lacking.
Manza estimates that she has spent about $325 since November on cases of copier paper, graph paper, "thousands" of pencils, and tissue to guard against passing influenza germs among students, a supply especially close to her heart since her son suffers from asthma.
"I know I'm not the only parent," she said. "I make sure both of my children have extra (supplies) in case someone doesn't have any."
Manza didn't see this problem in Washington, where her family lived up until three years ago.
"I'm not going to have my children's education affected because the district can't get supplies. I think they're cutting in all the wrong places," she said of Lodi Unified. "Why not ask for what you need?"
That's exactly what Oak View Union School District Superintendent Michael Scully is doing. He recently went before the parent club and asked for donations since the $200 annual stipend for each the school's 19 teachers will drastically be reduced next school year. He estimates that he's already received 10 cases of copier paper.
"We're not asking for hundreds of dollars, just pens, Kleenex … there's already parents that are doing that," Scully said.
"I've never seen this," he added of donations. "One guy pulled up and just started unloading paper - and I hadn't even talked to him. He just knew schools use a lot of copier paper."
Scully, who has spent 21 years in education including service as a teacher and former principal in the Galt elementary district, said that this is by far the worst budget year.
"Teachers are being very careful about what they're using. They know what's going on, so they're willing to do what needs to be done," he said.
"That's nice when parents step up."
'Down to the bare bones'
Back in Lodi, Alvarez' son, a senior at Lodi High, told him that students are no longer allowed to print from computers at school, and none of the machines are stocked with paper.
"It seems as if even basic needs like paper are in very short supply throughout LUSD," said Alvarez, a Sacramento elementary principal, before pointing out that there are still a few months left in the school year.
Nichols-Washer agreed. "Schools are probably down to the bare bones at this point."
At Lodi High, English and journalism teacher Jerry Pike has not personally been affected by frozen purchase orders resulting in no new board pens or staplers. "No doubt it will be felt in August when we start school again," he said.
"I already spend a lot of my (own) money on school supplies and will probably have to spend even more."
Pike said the school is definitely feeling the pinch of paper rationing. "We have not been told, per se, to cut down on copying, but we now have to ask a secretary or the mailroom clerk for paper every time we make copies, which is annoying but probably necessary.
"I don't see a lot of waste here on campus, but conserving paper is always a good idea."
While he too hasn't yet noticed much difference, fellow teacher Jeff Palmquist also rates conservation high, and has his students put multiple assignments on one paper. That includes doing homework on the same sheet upon which they took notes.
Pike has posted some assignments on his class Web site for students to download and print at home, while he said some teachers offer bonus points for bringing paper. Another is reportedly charging students for supplies that are on-hand.
"I guess this is what it has come down to," Pike said.
In Galt, high school teacher Alex Bauer said that the district has not yet reached that stage, although some teachers are requesting that students bring in supplies such as paper. Instead, the school board is considering increasing student fees for sports, transportation and a variety of lab classes to help balance its budget.
While some Lodi Unified teachers are hesitate to complain about what supplies they do have, others, including Tokay High science teacher Susan Heberle, have spoken publicly about buying their own instructional materials while others are just getting by.
"We don't have tissue," Julia Morgan teacher Anne Swehla Garcia told school board members at a recent meeting. "It's kindergarten; it's messy in there."
Contact Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.