About two weeks before the start of school, Amber Riniker was in her fourth grade Georgetown Elementary School classroom decorating bulletin boards and unpacking crates of books and binders.
The Sussex County native is entering her fourth year of teaching and says it’s not uncommon for her to spend around $400 of her own money on classroom supplies throughout the year.
“A lot of it goes towards books for the classroom library, but I’ve also purchased bookshelves and stuff like binders to keep everything organized,” Riniker said, adding decorations are also an expense. “I try to make it feel homey. For example, this year I’ve asked students to bring in pictures of themselves and their families to make them feel better about being here. It just motivates them a little more.”
In a national survey conducted recently by Horace Mann Educators Corporation, three-fourths of the 814 educators who responded indicated they spend more than $100 of their own money on classroom supplies. Of the respondents, 53 percent said this expenditure is due to state budget cuts and the poor economy. They also said budget cuts have affected extracurricular activities, music and arts, history and civics, character education and parent activities. Four out of five said they had to abandon projects in the past year as a result of budget cuts and 44 percent said their salaries have been frozen.
In the Indian River School District, each school is annually provided local discretionary funds to acquire supplies and materials, according to district Chief Financial Officer Patrick Miller. This money, he said, is in addition to any federal funds, state categorical funds, intensive learning center funds or other competitive grant funds.
During fiscal year 2013, Miller said, Indian River allocated $1,095,588 to its schools for discretionary supplies and materials, as well as another $116,161 in funds carried over from last year.
“The allocation of this money is via their school budget development process which is required to have teacher and staff participation,” Miller said.
According to local principals, individual teachers have each been allotted $250 this year for classroom supplies.
Laura Schneider, principal of Phillip C. Showell Elementary School, said this money tends to go quickly as a lot of her teachers go above and beyond the call of duty in trying to make their classrooms feel welcoming.
“They buy things like curtains, special bulletin board trim, bean bag chairs and other things not found in a school catalog,” Schneider said. “They do it to make school a place where kids want to be.”
Schneider said Phillip C. Showell’s parent teacher organization provides an additional $400 per grade level to be split up among teachers and local community groups help out a lot by donating “nuts and bolts supplies” like paper, pencils and pens.
Page 2 of 2 - Ivan Neal, a vice principal at Georgetown Elementary School, said his school’s PTO is also incredibly helpful, as it pays for all school field trips and sometimes funds special projects and playground equipment. His teachers are also provided $250 each and he says a lot of them pay more out of pocket.
“It’s just a fact of life,” Neal said. “School budgets have been stretched to the bare bones, so to make up the slack many teachers will go into their own pockets to make sure the children have all the things they feel is necessary.”
Jessica Kinsler and Jamie Towers, who have been teachers for seven years and are co-teaching a third grade class this school year at Georgetown Elementary School, said they spend a lot of money on incentives like snacks.
“During my first year of teaching, I probably spent $1,000 on treats and items for my treasure box,” Kinsler said, adding she spends a lot of time searching for deals at yard sales. “Also, I order little medals for [Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System] testing.”
Towers said she also spends a lot on books for the in-classroom library.
“I’m not sure how much I spend,” she said. “Maybe I don’t count it up because I’m afraid of the outcome.”
Coincidently, according to Miller, $250 is also the maximum amount teachers are able to write off on their taxes each year for classroom supplies. Receipts and documentation of these expenses are necessary in the event of an Internal Revenue Service audit, Miller added.
Of course, a lot of teachers surpass that amount and some are turning to charities like DonorsChoose.org to help offset their expenses. Laura Marsh, a first grade teacher at Georgetown Elementary School, has been able to acquire hundreds of dollars in nonfiction books and educational games through the website.
According to the website, DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that allows teachers to post “classroom project requests” on its site and donations are collected till the projects reach their funding goal. At that time, the materials requested by the teacher are shipped to their school. Those who donate more than $50 receive handwritten “thank you” notes and photos from students.
“I just put in a project requesting two iPads, which totals about $800,” Marsh said. “It’s a stretch, but I was shocked when I actually got the materials from the first two projects I posted.”