News Column

Out of pocket: Teachers stock up on supplies with own money

September 1, 2014

By Renata Birkenbuel, The Montana Standard, Butte

Sept. 01--Some things never change: Teachers buying supplies out-of-pocket.

It is a fall ritual for many educators -- supplementing, with their own money, classroom materials with notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons or other necessities.

It starts with the school supply lists teachers send home with their students. Even local stores receive lists from educators ready to hit their periodic sales.

If parents are financially unable to fill the lists or if students forget or lose their supplies, then teachers fill the gaps.

"I can't think of anybody who never buys anything," said Maureen Driscoll, longtime chemistry teacher at Butte High School.

Granted, she's a high school teacher, but teachers at all levels seem resigned to buying supplies on their own dime.

As science department head, Driscoll has a bit more responsibility than her cohorts in making sure their labs are stocked.

She's allotted "a very generous" budget of $1,100 each year to buy in bulk glass tubes and laboratory-grade chemicals for her department from a supply company.

But she spends locally out-of-pocket for her first-year students on what she calls "grocery store chemistry" items like candles, sugar, aluminum foil, vinegar, ammonia and hydrogen peroxide for her pet lab projects.

"I can't realistically purchase these things from a supply store," Driscoll said. "They're too costly and take too long to ship. It's just easier to go to the local stores and make the purchases as I need them."

Like elementary teachers, she also buys everyday markers, glue, paper punches, hand soap and paper towels. Last year she even bought a printer for her room.

"We have a department printer down the hall in a computer lab, but it was just a time-saving thing on my part and it was under my control, if you will," she added.

Physics teachers regularly buy hands-on materials like marbles and tennis balls for lessons, she said.

Driscoll, going into her 28th year with the Butte school district and 31st year teaching overall, declined estimating how much she's spent over the years. Typically, teachers are not reimbursed for extra purchases.

Grade school teachers, especially, readily buy for their classrooms, despite sending long supply lists home so students can be prepared the first day of school.

"I'm like all teachers," said Edie McClafferty, second-grade teacher at Hillcrest Elementary. "During the year when we need something, we just go out and buy it."

Brenda Ayres, Kennedy Elementary teacher, said she spends up to $300 a year out-of-pocket on extra supplies. The Kennedy Parent Teacher Organization reimburses her $100 a year.

"We're really lucky, because not all schools do that," said Ayres. "It's been great."

The school district used to reimburse Kennedy teachers another $100, but budget cuts have stopped that perk.

Ayres figures the expense comes with the job.

Elementary teachers tend to buy the same items: crayons, glue sticks, rulers, wall decorations and maybe "treasure box" toys awarded as incentives "to get students excited about school," said Ayres.

"If you're starting out, you need more posters, manipulatives for math and sticky tape to demonstrate invertebrates for science," Ayres added. "We're always spending money on art projects, which can be pretty big, depending on what your project is."

And don't forget the occasional treats like popcorn or juice that grade school kids get for good behavior.

Even in the age of eBooks, many teachers still buy paperbacks or hardbacks out-of-pocket to stock their classroom libraries. Ayres easily spends $50 a year on books.

Teachers with Smartboards in their rooms often spend up to $20 for interactive learning games on DVD.

At least those who keep their receipts can apply the expense to a tax write-off.

Like most teachers swamped with endless lesson plans, grading, conferencing and professional work, McClafferty doesn't keep track of how much she spends.

"I don't know if I want to know," McClafferty added.


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Source: Montana Standard (Butte)

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