Teachers open wallets for their classes

  • By Jody Lawrence-Turner The Spokesman-Review
  • Sunday, November 29, 2009 12:01am
  • Local NewsNorthwest

SPOKANE — Tight school budgets and dedication to the job add up to high out-of-pocket classroom expenses for some Spokane-area educators.

Educators who responded to a Spokesman-Review questionnaire spent an average of $751 a year on classroom materials above what they are reimbursed from their districts.

Of the 75 teachers who responded from Spokane Public Schools and the Mead School District, a few estimated they spend as much as $3,000 annually on paper, pencils, printing supplies, classroom celebrations, books and educational materials.

Nationwide for the 2005-06 school year, educators spent an average of $1,752, one study found.

“You want your students to be able to achieve to the highest level, and I’m not the only one. Everyone is like that,” said Christine Culp, a special-education teacher in Spokane Public Schools. “Maybe I’m too conscientious of a teacher, but I want my kids to have the materials they need.”

Culp has taught in the district for 36 years. She spends about $2,750 a year, she said, but she has shelled out a lot more in some years. “When I was at Shaw, I spent more money just because of the (low-income) population,” said Culp, who now teaches at Moran Prairie.

According to the questionnaire answers, teachers in poorer areas tend to spend more. Teachers spent less in the Mead School District, which has 12 percent fewer students living in poverty than Spokane Public Schools. Only one Mead teacher who responded to the survey spent more than $1,000.

Teachers spent the most money when they were establishing their classrooms. One teacher said she’s emptied a $10,000 savings account since she started four years ago.

In general, most of the money educators spent was for books and educational materials an average of $317 a year.

“When you are planning a lesson and you want them to learn, you come up with an activity and then you decide: Do I want to give them a worksheet or spend money for other items that I think will help with what we are learning?” said Matthew Inman, a science teacher at Shadle Park High School.

The next biggest expense — an average of $175 a year — was for classroom celebrations.

While many teachers bring cupcakes to celebrate birthdays or special occasions, others splurge on holidays to use it as a learning experience.

“On Halloween, I do it very cultural, so they can see how we celebrate all around the world,” said Gayle Waner, another Spokane Public Schools teacher. “It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.”

Lawmakers realize teachers spend a lot of money out of their own pockets. Last summer, a bill was introduced in Congress to double the federal tax deduction allowed for teachers to $500. Some districts offer professional stipends. Mead offers $500. Spokane Public Schools’ reimbursement ranges from $225 to $675.

However, many teachers often spend more than their stipend and tax deductions combined so their students have the best tools and environment for learning.

Culp said she understands the district’s financial position when it comes to budget shortages.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to fund (education),” she said. “I think the federal government is doing us a disservice because any other business could write off all their expenses.”

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