Education

Do the math: The tab for school supplies keeps adding up

Levi Credille, 11, reaches up high to stack a bundle of paper while volunteering at Mount Tahoma High School on Friday. The nonprofit Communities in Schools of Tacoma, along with other community partners, will provideover 4,000 students from the Tacoma, Bethel, and Franklin Pierce school districts with school supplies.
Levi Credille, 11, reaches up high to stack a bundle of paper while volunteering at Mount Tahoma High School on Friday. The nonprofit Communities in Schools of Tacoma, along with other community partners, will provideover 4,000 students from the Tacoma, Bethel, and Franklin Pierce school districts with school supplies. lwong@thenewstribune.com

The National Retail Federation estimates that families with kids in kindergarten through high school will spend an average of $673.57 per child to equip their kids for school this year.

That figure includes clothing, electronics, shoes and school supplies. Of that, about 16 percent — an estimated $107.76 — will go for school supplies.

Parents aren’t the only ones chipping in for kids. National surveys estimate that American teachers spend between $500 and $900 of their own money every year for classroom supplies.

Nonprofit groups and businesses organize donation drives every year to assist families who can’t afford everything on their kids’ school lists. But families don’t always find out about the giveaways in time.

Arron Wilkins, principal at Boze Elementary in Tacoma, says no child should feel unwelcome at school due to a lack of supplies. When school starts in Tacoma on Sept. 7, he’ll have several cabinets stuffed with backpacks that are filled with supplies for kids in need.

New ideas

Some school districts are asking educators to keep their supply lists short. Other schools have found that they can buy many basic items cheaper if they combine the buying power of the entire school population. That’s one strategy that’s being employed as an option at Lowell Elementary in Tacoma.

Parents can pay a $30 student supply fee at the school office, the school will buy needed items in bulk and distribute them to students throughout the school year. But there’s one caveat, according to the Lowell website: “The district has asked all schools to communicate to their families to make sure the families know they have a choice for student supplies. Parents may pay the supply fee OR purchase the items listed.”

At least one Washington school district has decided to stop asking parents to pay for most supplies.

Arlington Public Schools in Snohomish County pays for elementary classroom supplies and materials needed for assigned projects that will be completed at home. The district asks elementary families to provide a backpack. Middle and high school students are asked to bring their own binders, dividers and pencils, along with P.E. uniforms. But backpacks are optional. Other supplies for classroom work and projects assigned to be done at home are paid for by the district.

TNT goes shopping

At The News Tribune, we were curious how much parents are asked to spend for school supplies in Pierce County. So we downloaded some school supply lists and went shopping.

We chose the schools at random, and shopped for kindergarten and fifth grade students.

Our shopping took place from mid- to late-August, so prices may have fluctuated over time. We tried to choose a variety of stores near the schools, and prices for similar items varied from store to store. Our assumption was that busy parents might try to do as much one-stop shopping as possible. When prices varied widely, we tried to price the least expensive product. (Dedicated coupon and discount hunters could have brought it home for less cash.). All prices quoted are before tax.

Some of our prices include a few more or less of the item than called for, due to product packaging. Again, we put ourselves in the mindset of busy parents who might think, “I’m buying 96 pencils instead of 100, since they come in packs of 24. I’ll get four of those. Close enough.”

We chose schools from different school districts and neighborhoods, some more affluent than others. The chart notes the most recently state-published free and reduced-price lunch rates for each school, which are a widely used marker of student poverty.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

CARSON ELEMENTARY, Puyallup School District

2015-16 Free/reduced price lunch rate: 35.7%

Shopped at: Fred Meyer

Kindergarten

Item

Price

2 black Expo whiteboard markers

$2.99 (per 4 pk)

30 presharpened pencils

$5.98 ($2.99 per 18 pk)

1 Crayola watercolors paint set

$1.49

3 boxes of 24 count crayons

$1.47

16 glue sticks

$7.98

1 hand sanitizer with pump

$2.50

1 box of Kleenex

$1.99

1 pink Eraser

$0.39

Total

$24.79

5th Grade

Item

3 inch binder

Price

$8.63

Dividers, 1 pk of 5

$2.39

Pencil pouch

$1.99

30 presharpened pencils

$5.98 ($2.99 per 18 pk)

2 red pens

$2.49

Scissors

$3.59

Fine sharpie

$1.49 (for 2)

3 spiral notebooks

$5.37

Loose-leaf paper, 2 pkgs

$3.98

1 folder

$0.15

Pink eraser

$0.39

1 pk of 8-10 markers

$1.49 (for 10 pk)

Pencil sharpener

$0.59

2 pack glue sticks

$2.29 (for 3 pk)

Box of Kleenex

$1.99

Total

$42.81

TYEE PARK ELEMENTARY, Clover Park School District

2015-16 Free/reduced-price lunch rate: 90.3%

Shopped at: Walmart

Kindergarten

Item

Price

1 pair Fiskars scissors

$2.97

16 glue sticks

$11.76 ($3.92 per 6 pk)

2 boxes Crayola crayons, 24-count

$1

24 No. 2 pencils

$3.94

1 large pink eraser

$1.46 (per 3 pk)

2 boxes Kleenex

$5.98 (per 3 pk)

2 pkgs. baby wipes

$2.92

1 pkg Playdoh

$0.50

2 spiral notebooks, 70 pgs., wide rule

$1.76

1 composition notebook

$0.50

2 boxes Ziploc bags (1 one-gallon, 1 sandwich size)

$2.48 and $2.28

4 pocket folders (no clasp, prefer plastic): 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 blue, 1 green

$3.88

Backpack

$9.88

Total

$51.31

5th Grade

Item

Price

2 pkgs. lined paper, college rule

$1.64

2 single subject notebooks, college rule

$1.76

100 No. 2 pencils

$15.76 (for 4 pks of 24 each)

1 pencil pouch for binder

$3.97

Set of colored pencils, crayons or markers

$0.97 (colored pencils)

Ball point pens

$2.74

1 standard ruler

$0.97

2 large boxes Kleenex

$5.98 (for 3 pk)

Pencil sharpener with cover

$1.48

3 composition notebooks

$1.50

Total

$36.77

BOZE ELEMENTARY, Tacoma Public Schools

2015-16 Free/reduced-price lunch rate: 83.0%

Shopped at: Target

Kindergarten

Item

Price

Backpack

$14.99

3 pkgs. Crayola crayons, 24-count

$1.50

8 glue sticks

$2.79 (for 3 pks of 3 each)

1 pkg. EXPO fine tip markers

$3.47 (for pk of 4)

4 large pink erasers

$1.04

2 pkgs. Ticonderoga pencils

$5.58

2 folders with pockets

$1.94

1 ream white copy paper

$4.32

1 16-oz. hand sanitizer

$2

2 pkgs. Clorox/Lysol wipes

$5.96

2 boxes Kleenex

$3.58

Boys: 1 box sandwich bags

$3.19

Girls: 1 box gallon bags

$4.49

1 pkg. Crayola markers

$0.97

1 pkg. Crayola pencils

$2.99

Total

$53.62 boys, $54.92 girls

5th Grade

Item

Price

Backpack

$14.99

Supply box

$0.97

1 pkg. thin tip markers

$0.97

1 pkg. colored pencils

$2.99

2 glue sticks

$.50

12-inch ruler

$0.49

Protractor

$1.99 (We could only find it in a 2-piece drafting kit)

Scissors

$2.69

1 lg. pink eraser

$0.52 (2 pk)

1 yellow highlighter

$1.17 (2 pk)

2 pkgs. No. 2 wooden pencils

$5.58

EXPO thin tip markers 4-pack

$3.47

3 pkgs. college ruled paper

$2.97

1 ream copy paper

$4.32

3 spiral notebooks, 70 page

$1.77

3 folders w/o prongs

$1.46

4-inch binder

$5.99 (Biggest we could find was a 3-inch)

2 boxes Kleenex

$3.58

1 bottle hand sanitizer, 16-0z.

$2

1 pkg Clorox/Lysol wipes

$2.98

1 box Ziploc bags (quart)

$3.19

Total

$63.89

WHITTIER ELEMENTARY, Tacoma Public Schools

2015-16 Free/reduced-price lunch rate: 44.9%

Shopped at: Target

Kindergarten

Item

Price

Backpack

$14.99

Six jumbo glue sticks

$7.08

1 Fiskar children's scissors

$2.99

2 dozen No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils

$4.88

2 containers cleaning wipes (Lysol/Clorox)

$5.96

1 box gallon Ziploc bags (if last name starts with A-M)

$4.49

1 box sandwich Ziploc bags (if last name starts with N-Z)

$3.19

1 ream white copy paper

$4.32

1 bottle hand sanitizer

$2

1 bottle hand soap

$1.99

1 box facial tissues

$1.79

2 pink erasers

$0.52 (2 pk)

4 boxes 24-count Crayola crayons

$2

3 plain colored folders w/ pockets (Pee-Chee style)

$2.82

1 Pee-Chee style folder, any design

$.94

Total

$56.77 (last names A-M), $55.47 (last names N-Z)

5th Grade

Item

Price

Backpack

$14.99

1 binder, 2-inch, black

$4.39

5 colored binder tabs

$0.97

1 package colored markers

$0.97

1 package colored pencils

$2.97

1 ream copy paper

$4.32

1 box 24-count Crayola crayons

$0.50

4 Pink Pearl erasers

$1.47 (for 3 pk)

1 package pencil top erasers

$0.57

2 boxes facial tissue

$3.58

4 folders w/ pockets, 1 dark blue, 1 green, 1 red, 1 light blue

$1.94

1 glue stick

$0.50 (2 pk)

1 highlighter

$1.17 (2 pk)

2 packages college ruled paper

$1.98

1 dozen Ticonderoga pencils

$2.44

1 3-hole pencil pouch for binder

$2.79

1 pencil sharpener

$0.47

1 red medium point ballpoint pen

$3.97 (4 pk)

2 college ruled spiral notebooks

$1.38

Total

$51.37

MIDLAND ELEMENTARY, Franklin Pierce School District

2015-16 Free/reduced-price lunch rate: 79.7%

Shopped at: Walgreens

Kindergarten

Item

Price

Backpack

$5

1 pkg. baby wipes refill

$1.89

1 large box Kleenex tissues

Set of pencils to keep at home for homework

Set of crayons to keep at home for homework

$3 (2 pk of store brand)

$3.29 (for 24 pk)

$1.99 (for 16 pk)

Total

$15.17

5th Grade

Item

Price

Backpack (non-wheeled)

$5

1 pkg. looseleaf notebook paper

$1.99

5 spiral notebooks, 70+pp. each

$7.97 (w/ Walgreens discount card)

2 dozen No. 2 yellow pencils

$3.29

3 two-pocket folders

$2.07

2 Large pink Pearl erasers

$0.49 (2 pk)

12-inch ruler (inches and centimeters), non-flexible

$0.50

Colored pencils

$2.69

2+ glue sticks

$1.99 (3 pk)

School supply box

$1.49

Large boxes of tissues

$3 (2 pk of store brand)

Scissors, adult size

$6.99

Total

$37.47

Research by staff writers Hannah Shirley, Manola Secaira and Debbie Cafazzo

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