One thing that puzzles me about public schools is how teachers routinely have to reach into their own pockets to buy basic supplies for their classrooms.
You would think that with the generous salaries and benefits that school districts routinely bestow on teachers and administrators and with the millions they are willing to pay for playing fields and swimming pools, they would be able to buy enough chalk to keep the students’ hands busy, but no.
I hear all the time that teachers have to make up the difference.
A high school art teacher in Schenectady told me she has a budget of $1,000 to $1,500 a year to buy supplies for her 125 students, which works out to a lousy $10 per student or so. She estimates she spends another couple hundred dollars a year out of her own pocket.
An education journal reported last year that teachers nationwide spend an average of $356 a year on classroom supplies.
Science teachers this year reported spending up to $500 on everything from computer disks to vinegar and batteries.
The supply budget for Schenectady’s elementary schools this year is $155,000, which works out to $44 per student. School district spokeswoman Karen Corona says that is an increase over past years, made in response to teacher complaints.
Yes, teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses are tax deductible for federal purposes, but only up to $250. A bill to make them deductible for state tax purposes, up to $450, passed the state Senate this year but got no further.
“It’s very common for teachers to decorate classrooms, with carpets and reading chairs, because they want classrooms to be welcoming places,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers. “That happens most often in elementary schools, where they spend hundreds and even more than a thousand out of their own pockets.”
Spending on basic supplies is more common in urban or poor rural districts, he said, where teachers will even fork out for “coats, hats, food.”
Why does this have to be?
“We’re dealing with fewer resources,” says Barb Bradley, spokeswoman for New York State School Boards Association. Supplies, she said, “is one of the areas where a lot of school districts have made cuts.”
It’s not just teachers who help bridge the gap. It’s also parents and parent-teacher organizations, and in some places education foundations.
The study that found teachers spending an average of $356 of their own money also found that parents spend an average of $19 per student on basic classroom supplies, which works out to $475 per classroom, at 25 students each.
Isn’t it odd? You get superintendents making close to $200,000 a year, teachers making $80,000, all of them retiring when others their age must still work and collecting 60 percent of their salaries as pensions, but the school districts that are so generous in that department cannot afford enough paper and crayons to keep the classrooms going, so teachers have to turn around and chip in and so do parents.
If I were in charge I would do things a little differently.