by Mike Linn
Zia Elementary second-grade teacher Terri Damron has two budgets for school supplies — one from the school and one from her husband.
When she runs out of budgeted money for her classroom, or when certain items can’t be bought with a purchase order, she reaches into her own pocket to buy arts, crafts and other items that help enhance learning for her students.
She said she spends about $350 a year of her own money, and would spend more if her husband would let her.
“Basically the budget (Clovis schools) gives us goes toward construction paper and things like that, but to make the lessons more exciting you buy extra things,” she said. “It adds to what the students are learning.”
It’s common for elementary teachers to spend $500 of their own money annually on school supplies, according to estimates from the National Education Association in 2001. That national estimate is likely even higher now, with federal mandates related to the No Child Left Behind Act expanding school district budgets and forcing superintendents to cut budgets for things like school supplies and textbooks, NEA officials said.
The Clovis school district has been able to increase budgets for school supplies over the past two years. The 20003/2004 budget for school supplies was roughly $250,000 and increased by about 10 percent for this school year, said Michael Erwin, assistant superintendent for finance.
Federal standards and statewide salary increases for teachers have made budgets a little tighter among school districts, Erwin said, but Clovis schools so far have been able to hold steady in allocating funds for school supplies and materials.
Eduardo Holguin, president of NEA New Mexico and himself a fifth-grade bilingual teacher, said over the last few years he has been spending more and more of his own money for supplies. With new standards and a roughly $7 million allocation for state criteria and reference tests, school supply and text-book budgets for districts statewide could shrink even more.
“That’s $7 million that is taken out of the pie because it has to be spent according to the federal law,” said Holguin, who estimates he’ll spend about $450 of his own money on supplies this year.
“Nowadays you see teachers buying stacks and stacks of copy paper. Those are things when I started as a teacher (in 1974) was a school expense, but for the last few years of my career that’s not true anymore.”
Another factor, he said, is some teachers in lower-income schools will avoid asking students to bring in money for certain projects for fear the student’s family can’t afford it.
In the past that wasn’t the case, he said.
“When we were able to get the students to bring a dollar in or 50 cents to help fray the costs, some students can’t do that anymore,” he said. “And you don’t want to put a student in the position where they’re the only one who can’t.”