Pencils, paper, backpacks and binders on a budget

Ariah Moore, a seventh grader at NPTCC completes her back to school supply shopping. Overall, she and her mother spent approximately $300 on supplies, uniforms, shoes and a backpack. That is about half the national average of $634.78 per child. Photos by Juanice Gray

Parish supply lists less than half of national average

By Juanice Gray, Editor

Families are significant contributors to school supply stockpiles in most schools. Whether your child attends public or private school, high school or college, back-to-school shopping can get expensive. National surveys say this year the cost is expected to be slightly less per family than it was last year.

While back-to-school spending last year averaged $688.62 for families with K-12 children, spending this year is expected to average $634.78, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Capital One broke down the cost of back-to-school shopping per child, finding that 32 percent of parents plan to spend $100 or less per child, and that 21 percent plan to pay more than $200 per child.

A good percentage of parents spend more on school supplies than they save for their child’s college education each year according to Capital One’s data.

Ariah Moore, a seventh grader at Natchitoches Parish Technical and Career Center (NPTCC) and her mother were purchasing supplies Monday, July 22. Ariah’s mother said they had already purchased uniforms and shoes at a cost of about $260. She expected the supplies to be an additional $50-plus. That $310 estimated total puts their purchases right in the middle of the national average.

Earl and Pam Bamberg have daughters in first grade and preschool. Their receipt for supplies was $130.31, excluding uniforms, shoes and backpacks. Uniforms were another $100. The Bambergs saved by purchasing shorts in several sizes on clearance at the end of season last year. “I got a couple sizes larger than what they were wearing at the time. If they are too big or small, I have the advantage of having another girl to grow into them or saving them until the end of the school year when they’ve grown some,” Pam said.

Pam Bamberg provided this receipt for purchasing school supplies for two elementary school students.

The NRF estimates that the average parent will spend $122.13 on supplies, including notebooks, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes. Note that the total of $634.78 mentioned above also includes the cost of a backpack, gym uniform, music instrument rental, field trips and additional school fees.  NRF estimates for middle and high school students were $941 and $1,354, respectively.

One long time controversy is the request for name brand items over store brands for the essentials. As a paraprofessional for more than a decade and a half, I can attest to the fact that Crayola crayons are worth the extra cost. When teaching preschoolers their colors it is imperative that the crayon used to demonstrate, actually colors the shade it represents. For example, many off brand crayons look red, but once the child begins using them, that apple that should be red is actually purple or blue, thus creating confusion to the student.   Requests for name brand items started in the late 1990s.

Only clear or mesh backpacks, like those above, are approved for parish school students. Most can be found in a variety of colors and styles starting at around $10.

Teachers insisted the difference in quality between the name brand and the off brand mattered, as they still do today.  Supply lists began to specify Crayola crayons for the reasons outlined above, Fiskars scissors and Ticonderoga pencils. Those pencils write smoothly, erase fully and are non-toxic. As far as Fiskars, school staff can’t teach a child to work on those fine motor skills when the scissors chew the paper rather than cut it. Schools also began asking for Clorox or Lysol disinfectant wipes because they are compliant with OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standards.

So now that the reasons for asking for items has been explained, the Times staff decided to see exactly how hard it would hit Natchitoches Parish parents’ pocketbooks. Lifestyle editor Hannah Richardson and I each took the same list and priced each item at local retailers, inside Natchitoches city limits, which is the tax base that supports our public schools. We randomly chose M.R. Weaver fourth grade. Hannah shopped at Family Dollar and Dollar General while I went to Wal-Mart for supplies.

The complete supply lists all came in between $34 and $39 before tax. The full list at Wal-Mart and Dollar General was $34 and change and $39 at Family Dollar. Walgreens also had many of the items, but not the full list. The best bargains were three-prong folders for $.15 each at Wal-Mart, notebook paper for $.75 per pack at Dollar General and ear buds for $1 at Family Dollar.

School uniforms are available locally at several outlets and range in price from $7-20 for shirts depending on brand and size.

Polo style uniform shirts at Wal-Mart and Fisher’s varied in price from $7-10 and at Posey’s from $11-20 depending on brand and size. Fisher’s is also offering a buy three get one free promotion on shirts. Shorts at Wal-Mart ranged from around $7-10, at Posey’s from $14-21 and at Fisher’s, pants and shorts are both $10. Fleece jackets at Posey’s range from $22-28 and start at $26 at Fisher’s. Belts at all outlets ranged from $7-10 and backpacks, clear and mesh, were around $10 at Wal-Mart.

Other expenses occur when electronics like graphing calculators and art, sports, band and cheerleading supplies are needed in upper grade levels. Shoppers plan to find their items in brick-and-mortar stores rather than online, according to one poll. Sixty-three percent plan to visit physical department and office supply stores versus 37 percent shopping online.

Adopt a Classroom is one way the community is helping offset the cost of classroom supplies. Natchitoches resident and owner of Cobblestones Karis Cobb purchased the items above for Amy Fisher’s classroom at E-Lab. “I wanted to help because I know how expensive it is to purchase all of the supplies that are needed, and I know how important it is to have the supplies that you need. I was happy to help!” Cobb said.

Cost of school supplies falls on students and teachers, prompting organizations and community members to help fill a gap. Pack the Bus and Adopt a Classroom are popular ways to help teachers and students have the tools they need to succeed.