Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Teachers Spending Their Own Money

It seems that some folks now expect teachers to spend their own hard-earned money on other people's children their students:
Teachers learn two things early on in their careers: Out-of-pocket spending comes with the job. Don't expect reimbursement.

But as the mushrooming cost of basics such as books and paper join newer expenses related to computers and other electronics, school officials and local education foundations are stepping up efforts to help teachers cope.

In San Jose's East Side Union High School District that means restoring $200 reimbursements to teachers like Wendy Stegeman who shell out their own cash for supplies -- something the district discontinued four years ago when finances were especially tight.

For Stegeman, a special-education teacher at Andrew Hill High in San Jose, it will hardly make a dent, but everything helps. She said she spends anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500 of her own money every year for supplies and supplemental teaching materials.

``The problem is trying to guess what you will need for the year based on previous years and inflation and numbers of kids and estimated death of appliances -- VCRs, TV, lamps, computers, etc.,'' she said.

And that's part of the teachers' dilemma -- their shopping lists now include much more than the crayons, hand soap and wall decorations they have subsidized for ages. Factor in all the newer materials that might fall under the ``supplies'' heading -- DVD players and once-luxuries, now-necessities such as photocopiers and their pricey toner cartridges -- and teachers' noble sacrifices are heading toward crushing burdens.

They can't even deduct those expenses on their taxes anymore.

While well-established foundations in the Los Altos, Cupertino and Palo Alto school districts raise millions of dollars a year to provide schools with money for electronic teaching aids, East Side -- which includes Andrew Hill High -- does not have one -- yet.

East Side Superintendent Bob Nuñez said the district is eager to establish a foundation devoted to the district and to secure partnerships with existing organizations in large part to obtain steady funding for supplies.

While surveys show the approximately 1,000 teachers in the sprawling East Side district spend about $400 a year out of pocket on average -- a figure close to the national average -- the school board moved quickly to resume reimbursements when funds became available, said Nuñez, calling it a gesture acknowledging teachers' contributions.

``When people are asked about what experience they remember most from school, they talk about the teachers whose classrooms made them feel welcome and valued,'' Nuñez said.

``We're thrilled to see the board move on this,'' said Don McKell, president of the teachers' union in East Side.

Even though the individual reimbursements will be modest, the total cost to the district is expected to be about $240,000 -- a small fraction of the district's $200 million budget, but a sum impossible to free up until this year, when election-year politics allowed for more generous state funding across the board for public schools.

The question on teachers' minds is how long the reimbursements will last and whether future allocations made by districts to individual schools will increase to cover ever-rising costs.

When funds don't go far enough, teachers sometimes hold fundraisers. In some communities, PTAs and other organization offer small grants.

The San Jose Education Foundation, spearheaded by Muhammed Chaudhry of the long-established Franklin-McKinley Education Foundation, was launched in June to provide centralized fundraising for districts throughout San Jose. It announced it would offer $500 ``mini grants'' to fund teachers' special projects.

Bill Rice, principal at James Lick High in East Side, said he wishes more discretionary funds were made available to principals well aware that teachers are shouldering an increasingly expensive cost burden.

``In my case, I didn't give it a second thought,'' said Rice, of writing checks without expecting to be paid back during his 27 years as a teacher.

He figures most people would be shocked to learn the extent to which teachers subsidize classroom costs nowadays. Many school-related materials and activities are becoming harder to afford even for schools. If a teacher requests a field trip to San Francisco and its rich cultural offerings, he has to consider that each trip can cost up to $500.

Saying no to teacher requests, he said, ``is awful.''
Out here in California's, "Imperial" Valley teachers may not solicit parents for donations in order to buy instructional supplies or materials.

In fact, we've been told that parents cannot be required to furnish anything, including pencils or paper for their children's use.

Interestingly, we haven't observed very many school administrators spending their money on students or staffs.
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