To The Editor: Are teachers having to buy their own classroom supplies?

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A Parker Live reader suggests that budget cuts have left teachers without basic classroom supplies:

“My relatives are teachers at the Elementary School in Parker. At our family gatherings they often tell us about their hard-won achievements and struggles as the school year progresses.

Being a teacher is a tough job, and is becoming more difficult. Budget cuts put a lot of financial pressures on them by forcing them to constantly buy supplies. If they do not spend their own salary on supplies they are unable to provide an excellent education experience for our children.

What outrages me as a local taxpayer is to hear time and time again that these hard working teachers are being denied essential classroom supplies such as paper, pencils, glue sticks, markers, computers, copies, books and more.

I just can’t imagine that any teacher can be expected to educate our children and provide them the foundation for a bright future when they are denied access to basic needs such as paper and pencils.

I would love to hear you ask the question to local educators and hear how we the community can help them with this issue. Time is critical as the school year is half over and it is the future of the children that is at risk. Also, how eager will devoted teachers be to come (or stay) in this area and teach the children when they know much of their salary will be spent on the supplies and tools they need to have a successful classroom? There is at least one grade at the school that has been staffed with a substitute teacher without teaching credentials all year and one has still not been hired for the job.

It would be great to show our support for the teachers, and we must remember that our children will not have access to the tools they need without our immediate help.”

– Worried About Teachers

Thanks for your letter, WAT. There’s no doubt teachers have a tough job, and if it’s true that it’s even tougher for not having adequate budgets for their classrooms, I can certainly see why that’s a concern.

When my kid Tyler came home from his first day at junior high school here in Parker, he brought with him a list of things we needed to buy him and send to school with him the next day. And you know what, WAT? I was glad to get him those things and absorb some cost as a parent for the things the District couldn’t get.

But are teachers really having to dip into their pockets for these items? Does the District not have enough money to meet the basic education needs of our children? If so, what can we do about it?

To help answer some of these questions, WAT, I asked Jim Lotts, the Superintendent of the Parker Unified School District, to give us a sense of what’s happening on the inside.

Jim told me that Arizona ranks 47th out of 50 states when it comes to per-pupil funding. “Since 2008, the Parker Unified School District has seen our budget cut by 22 percent,” he says. “There is no doubt this cut has impacted how our District operates. We have seen class sizes increase and salaries of all employees – teachers, administrators and support staff – having been frozen or provided minimal raises since 2008.”

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How does this affect Parker classroom supplies? Well, it doesn’t, according to Jim:

“An area that has not been cut is in providing all teachers with the essential supplies necessary to provide a quality education for Parker students. Teachers have access to an unlimited supply of paper, pencils, dry erase markers, white boards, and Kleenex. The District even supplies hand sanitizer for every classroom. The District issues a laptop computer to every teacher in the District. A high speed copy machine is located at every campus and all teachers have 24/7 access to it along with an unlimited supply of copier paper. Our textbooks are all up-to-date and aligned with the state adopted standards and we take pride in providing a print rich environment in every classroom with a large selection of books. You will not find this to be true in all Arizona districts.

Good to know! (Especially that part about the hand sanitizer; have you heard all the sniffling lately?) But if the essential supplies are provided, what is WAT referring to then? Jim Lotts:

“It is true that some teachers like to provide their students with special non-essential supplies that the district cannot afford to purchase. Those teachers choose to spend their personal money, but are not required or expected to do so.”

This makes sense. Still, it sounds like our state is failing to invest in the education of our society. Our local school district is full of hard-working people like Jim and the teachers and staff. Shouldn’t they get the tools they need to do the job to its best capacity?

Jim also addressed the substitute teacher comment:

“All teachers in the Parker District are certified and have teaching credentials. It is true that we were not able to find a fully certified teacher for certain classrooms and currently fill those positions with long-term substitutes. This occurs due to the ‘teacher shortage’ in the state and across the country. Our District recruits teachers throughout the country. We send representatives to teacher job fairs in as many as five different states and advertise openings through an internet-based recruiting company called ‘teachers-teachers.com‘. Fewer and fewer college students are entering the education profession due to the high stress and low pay. This makes it extremely difficult to find and retain teachers.”

So again, we come back to state funding for education. I’m not sure the legislators realize what should be held as a basic truth: a well-educated youth leads to a well-educated workforce, which leads to a better and more prosperous economy. In other words, if you fund the schools properly, you help us all do well.

Unfortunately, the situation is about to get worse in the Parker area, not better, and it’s our own fault:

“One way our local community could have helped our local schools was by approving the continuation of the Maintenance and Operations 10% override that generated approximately $978,000 each year. Unfortunately the voters of our community this past November voted this down. This will result in a decrease of $326,000 in our budget for next year. Maybe the next time it is brought before our voters they will approve this funding.”

So, WAT, allow me to summarize: the essential classroom supplies are provided by the District, but anything extra comes from other places (including the pockets of teachers who want them) because our state is continually cutting the funding and our own voters aren’t helping. Capiche?

You know, there is a little trick that we could all use to get more state funding into our local schools. A loophole, if you will; a hack to the system. Here’s what you do:

  1. Take $200 if you’re an individual or $400 if you’re a married couple, and send it to the local school district before the end of 2015.
  2. On next year’s Arizona state tax return, indicate that you gave the money.
  3. Get it back in your tax return!

See what you just did? You just took $400 out of the state of Arizona general fund, forced it into your local school system without any cost to you, and you’re able to itemize it as a deduction on your federal taxes too (so you’ll even come out a little ahead). Brilliant!

Anyway, thanks for the letter, WAT. As for you, dear readers, do you have any thoughts about this issue? Are you happy with the amount of funding Parker Unified School District gets? It sounds like they’re having to make tougher and tougher decisions and cuts while Arizona ranks lower and lower on the education charts. I think that’s pretty dumb. What about you?

John Wright
Editor

—–

Interjection: this from Greg Bachmann.

Hey John

As the spouse of a teacher/administrator now for 36 something years, I read with interest, and with a chuckle or two, the article about teachers and supplies. I do want to make one quick correction, IF one does give to the tax school credit, it is only deductded from AZ State tax. IF you deduct it from your federal taxes (of which you would only receive a small portion of the write off) then you cannot deduct that amount from your AZ tax liability. Unless the tax laws have changed for 2015, that’s how it stood last year. The great thing about the tax school credit is that it is a dollar for dollar write off. I don’t know if this is still true or not, you can designate where that money goes, within certain limits. If you have a family member involved in HS sports for instance, you can donate up to $400 (as you outlined) for their sports camp. Which basically means the State of AZ paid for the students camp, not you!

In closing, a caring, dedicated teacher will always spend some of their own money on their students. Its another one of those things that make teachers, teachers.

11 comments

  1. Katie Turnbow

    Educators can also qualify for a federal tax credit for purchases that were not covered by school districts. http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc458.html. Another hack!

  2. Star Soldiers

    That $250 write off is crap… With proper receipts, teachers should be able to write off much more. Ask any teacher how much they spend in August in preparation for the upcoming school year and you will find 9 times out of 10 it’s double at a minimum. Our country allows people to write off a swimming pool in your backyard as a medical expense in some cases, but not a teacher spending money on their classroom? Something is wrong with this picture. I wish citizens would have put as much effort into getting the 10% override passed as they did medical marijuana…. Priorities are out of whack nowadays.

  3. Rudy Gonzales

    Katie and Star Soldiers have it right. Teachers should be able to qualify for a refund for every penny they spend on classroom supplies.

  4. I think if you really want to know what it is like to be a teacher in the district, ask a teacher.

  5. Jay Clagg

    Research How Much Money is Given To The Fed and The State Department of Education and how much is returned to the School Districts. Im sure You will find a Big Dark Hole where money Disappears. Solution Do Not Send it to them keep it here.

  6. Tiffany Arduser Beaver

    As a teacher in this district, we are truly lucky to have so many school supplies at our disposal. The extras we spend are for the students to feel at home and comfortable at school, it makes for a better learning environment. The things I find myself spending a lot of money on, is crayons for students to have at home, many don’t have them. The main purchase I do yearly is buy books, there are so many families that don’t have books at home to read. Since the override didn’t pass, next year we won’t be able to provide students with after school tutoring. This is so important to our students, and now they won’t have that extra opportunity to have help in areas where they are struggling. I appreciate everyone who sees that teaching is not an easy job to have. We teach because we love the students and want the best for them and their futures. We are definitely not in it for the money, or lack of.

  7. John Nault

    Teaching,the only job you take stuff from home to work.

  8. My mom works at Wallace and I’ve seen the supply room which is always fully stocked with the essentials. If a teacher wants certain decor in their room I know that comes out of their pockets but I think it always has? Our district has been hit hard that’s for sure. Fortunately, we aren’t at the same level as havasu where there is no bussing system for the older children and parents have to pay out of pocket $400 per sport for their kid to play once they teach high school. Maybe the community can put on a book drive which would give the district the ability to donate books to those homes that can’t afford them??

  9. I know the HS student council does fundraisers that could be a good one for them

  10. My wife is a teacher in this district (and she going to kill me). What is really happening at the schools is apparently very different from what Mr. Lotts thinks is happening. Teachers routinely purchase pencils, markers, Kleenex and so on because they cannot get them from the school. The copiers and printers have use limits and are frequently out of service. While the teachers may have new laptops (which they need) the computers for students to use in the classroom are all old (5 years or more) and are completely out of date.

  11. Is the Parker School District reimbursed for tribal members? Same or more than non tribal members?

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