School supply lists are getting longer and pricier

EVERETT — Paper, pens and pencils.

Check, check and check.

Post-Its, Kleenex, quart-sized zip-lock bags and USB drives.

Huh?

School supply lists have changed a lot over the years.

“It’s so different than when I was in school,” said Denise Albright, an Everett school bus driver and mother of four children, including three still in middle and high school.

Supply lists have become longer and pricier, she said.

In some school districts across Snohomish County, it’s not just that students need to have a pen, but that they need ones with black, blue and red ink, and highlighters in yellow, pink and green.

Some lists get specific. Composition books must be college ruled. Flash drives must have 2 to 4 gigabyte memory. Graph paper should provide four squares per inch.

Some schools ask for baby wipes and hand sanitizer, and that ear buds for the computer lab come in a baggie with the student’s name written on it.

Many ask students to provide a ream of copier paper. Some middle schools want students to bring combination locks for PE and $15 for art supplies.

Seventh-graders at Harbour Pointe Elementary School are asked to provide one clean sock to erase whiteboards in math class. Full-day kindergartners at Little Cedars Elementary in the Snohomish School District bring small blankets or beach towels for resting.

With school districts’ growing requests for classroom supply contributions, spending on school supplies are expected to increase 12 percent to an average of $101.18 in 2014, compared to $90.49 last year, according to a National Retailers Federation survey released in July.

Sue Koch is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Little Cedars. A teacher for 37 years, she remembers from her own childhood and early years in the profession when nearly everything that was needed came from the school supply closet.

She understands the financial challenges many parents face today. In recent years, she has helped with a Snohomish Community Food Bank program that provides backpacks and supplies to its clients. The donations are made on a shoestring budget. This year, they’ll give supplies to 300 students from elementary through middle school.

“We have to buy what we can afford, just like a parent,” she said. “When we buy in bulk we can’t go out and buy the top name brand.”

That can be an issue. Some teachers’ lists seek name-brand supplies that might be more expensive than generic items.

There often are sound educational reasons for specific requests, Koch said. The three shades of highlighters, for instance, could be used to teach students important organizational skills. A certain type of gluestick might not leave the mess of a cheaper brand.

In Everett, Albright has learned to store supplies from previous school years at home during the summer and to stock up and when the price is right.

She also knows to wait for each teacher’s list before trying to get everything.

“I don’t care if I have to go to 12 stores,” she said. “I wait to pay the price I want to pay.”

Albright works for Durham School Services, which provides bus service for the Everett School District.

On Wednesday, she was helping other volunteers from the company load boxes with backpacks full of donated school supplies into six school buses. It was a major undertaking.

Thanks to donations from individuals, churches, nonprofits and businesses, including World Vision and a Boeing Co. school supplies drive, the Everett Public Schools Foundation was able to gather 1,700 backpacks for needy students across the district. The total value exceeds $75,000 and provides supplies for nearly one in 10 students.

“The need has not gone away,” said Kristie Dutton, director of the Everett foundation, which has been spearheading the “Stuff-the-Bus” collection efforts for several years.

Schools start sending in their wish lists to the foundation in the spring. Some are longer than others. At Hawthorne Elementary, where 88 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch based on family income, Durham delivered 300 backpacks full of supplies.

In hard times, Albright’s family also received help at the start of the school year. It made her volunteer work even more meaningful, she said.

“I know how a lot of what those people feel,” she said.

In the Snohomish district, Koch understands the difficulty paying for school supplies can impose on families.

At the food bank, she sees delighted children choose their backpacks and pick out supplies. Yet she knows that the food bank can’t provide everything on every list and parents will be left to scramble.

This is the last year the food bank will be providing school supplies as it refocuses on its original mission of feeding those in need. Koch hopes that other organizations, including school PTAs, will pick up the slack and can widen the net.

As it stands, many working families who don’t use the food bank are feeling the pinch.

“We get calls starting about mid-August from parents saying, ‘I’m not a client of the food bank but can you help us out?’” Koch said. “I think our lower middle class has grown and that’s where there is a lot of need.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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