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Districts grapple with cost of school supplies

July 22, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD and ANDREW SCHOTZ

TRI-STATE-The cost of school classroom materials is rising in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle amid questions about which supplies are considered necessities.

Schools in the state are constitutionally required to provide, at no charge, the basics for education, but what that means never has been clearly defined.

A state oversight agency, the Office of Education Performance Audits, has said that families cannot be forced to buy extensive lists of "required" school supplies.

However, the state Department of Education has not banned supply lists, department spokeswoman Allison Barker said.

"We've received a lot of questions," Barker said. "Counties are confused on what they should pay for and what they shouldn't."

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State Superintendent Steven L. Paine will advise administrators on which items are not "integral and fundamental" to learning, meaning districts wouldn't have to provide them, Barker said.

Meanwhile, local school officials say their classroom costs for students are going up.

Leaders in Berkeley County have agreed to increase the per-student allocation for classroom materials, including pens, pencils, paper and calculators, from $39 to $50, Deputy Superintendent Frank Aliveto said.

Aliveto said inflation has been a factor and the allocation hasn't changed in about three years.

Based on last year's enrollment of 16,322 in Berkeley County, the $11-per-student increase would raise the district's budget for materials by nearly $180,000, to about $816,000.

Morgan County increased its allocation for materials by $20 per student in the 2007-08 budget, Superintendent Dave Banks said.

Susan Wall, Jefferson County's interim superintendent, said her district also increased its expenditures for materials, but she wasn't sure how much.

Other local states have different approaches.

Asked about West Virginia's requirement to provide basic school materials, Leah Harris, assistant press secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said, "We wouldn't dictate something like that."

Instead, the state prefers to give its 501 school districts local control, Harris said.

The Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District provides paper and some essentials, but students bring in other supplies, such as pencils, school board member Lawrence Glenn said.

Teachers often have extras for students who don't have their own, Glenn said.

In Maryland, Washington County Public Schools generally does not provide school supplies for its students.

"It's a cost we've traditionally not taken on, and we always appreciate families and households stepping up on that responsibility," school system spokesman Will Kauffman said.

Kauffman said Washington County school officials help families who have financial hardships. Many teachers and other staff members contribute supplies out of their own pockets.

Staff writers Erin Cunningham and Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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