Back-to-school supplies can be budget busters

August 03, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Susie Schlenz will spend about $2,000 shopping for back-to-school supplies and new clothes for her six children.

"We spend a lot," the Frederick, Md., resident said during a recent shopping trip to Target in Halfway.

To save money, Schlenz said, her children - entering kindergarten through 12th grade - use the same scissors and pencil cases each year. However, paper, notebooks, pencils and other items need to be purchased before each school year begins.

While not every family will spend thousands of dollars, a recent price comparison by a Herald-Mail reporter found that supplies can cost between $38 and $111 for just one child.

Classes for Washington County Public Schools students begin Aug. 20.

School system officials said they are aware that this year, parents might have less money for back-to-school shopping.

Michael Markoe, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said that with higher gasoline and food prices, parents could be unable to buy all of the items on a student's supply list.


"Right now, we recognize the financial challenges that parents are facing," Markoe said.

"Principals are looking at (supply) lists to identify things that are not essential."

Markoe said parents only should purchase items that students absolutely need. Items that are on many lists distributed from schools include disinfecting wipes, tissues and hand sanitizer.

However, Markoe said such items can be "viewed as optional" if parents are forced to cut back on what they buy. He said that if a name-brand item is listed on a supply list, a generic brand can be substituted.

For example, second-graders at the Fountaindale School for Arts and Academic Excellence are asked to bring a box of No. 2 pencils, preferably Ticonderoga brand. Those same students are asked to bring Clorox-brand wipes and Fiskars scissors.

Kindergartners at Boonsboro Elementary School are asked to bring Ziploc-brand bags. Second-graders at Emma K. Doub Elementary School are asked to bring Elmer's glue.

Then, there's what the kids want.

Jane King, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said she'll spend about $300 just on school supplies before her three children go back to school. During a recent shopping trip to Target, she said her younger children are more interested in decorated school supplies instead of plain colors.

"For the girls, it has to be cute," she said.

King said that buying them supplies that they like makes her children more excited about going back to school.

But the more expensive supplies are not necessary.

"I feel we always need to be sensitive to the financial needs of families," Markoe said. "We want students to be excited about school, and not worried about whether or not they have the right school supplies."


For families who are unable to buy school supplies, there are several area organizations that offer help.

Ann Martin, executive director of Children In Need Inc., said the nonprofit organization spent about $28,000 this year to buy school supplies for needy children. The supplies go to children who qualify for the schools' free and reduced-meals program, she said.

Martin said that this year, students in Hancock, which has been affected by recent job losses, also will receive additional assistance.

"Rayloc closed, and it's leaving that town in a bit of a pickle," she said. "So we're going to give supplies to those schools."

OakFirst Loan Center, at 1073 Maryland Ave. in Hagerstown, and its parent company, First United Bank & Trust, at 130 S. Edgewood Drive in Hagerstown, also are collecting supplies for area schools.

Theresa Rowe, branch manager of OakFirst, said it is the business' third annual school supplies drive.

"We collect a lot," she said. "We usually help five or six schools ... the ones that are the most needy."

Items will be collected at both businesses through Aug. 18.

Markoe said that school PTAs also collect school supplies that are distributed when school begins.


Teachers also may buy supplies for their classrooms using money given to them by Washington County Public Schools.

Markoe said that each teacher gets between $100 and $375, depending on the school, to buy "extras" they might want for their classes.

"A kindergarten teacher who wanted to decorate her classroom could use the funding for that ... it's a discretionary fund," he said.

Items such as pencils, pens, staples and chalk are provided to teachers.

Teachers have found that asking parents to purchase hand sanitizer, tissues and other items for classes has been most "economical," Markoe said.

"However, if teachers need additional items then the school system is always able to provide them," he said.

Need help buying school supplies?

What: Children In Need Inc., which offers school supplies, clothing and other items for qualified children

Where: 131 W. North Ave., Hagerstown

Hours: Open for clients Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, and open for donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.

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