By Nancy Gutierrez
"I've really seen a change [at school] in the last 15-16 years. I remember when I was at Wilson we had a $1,000 budget for the year to buy copies and workbooks and class books with," Lincoln Elementary School teacher Diana Lemus said. "At Lincoln we had $200 available now we have nothing."
As a 25 year teacher Lemus has seen classroom funds slowly erode away and teacher out-of-pocket expense grow. Rocky Hill Elementary School teacher Kimberly Shipley agrees and said the amount of money she has had to apply toward her classroom has increased due to budget cuts and cuts in state funding.
"I have only been in the district six years and the biggest change that I have seen over the years is that less and less of the basics are provided due to budget cuts," she said. "Last year we ran out of photocopy paper, pencils, ink cartridges and basically all supplies that weren't already in stock because of the cut in state funding."
Shipley said she spends $2,000 a year on classroom resources. Lemus said she keeps her spending to $500 though she said she passed that amount in 2003. Lincoln teacher Robin Perna said each year she spends around $1,500 on her classroom. Perna said she has also seen supply availability steadily worsen.
"We'll run out of supplies and though they are on order we won't have any more glue left or markers," she said. "I teach kindergarten and our class sizes increased but the budget didn't."
Many districts braced themselves for the cuts that would come with the recent budget crisis in California, but even before the budget crisis many teachers were already contributing to the classroom with their own funds.
A report by Quality Education Data, an educational market research company in Denver, stated that on average 60 percent of money spent on classroom supplies in the United States in 2002 came from teachers. The remaining 40 percent came from districts. The Eisenhower National Clearing house, a K-12 math and science teacher center, took an on-line poll and found that of the money teachers spent in their classroom, 26 percent was spent on supplemental materials; 25 percent was spent on basic needs like pencils, paper, bandages and tissues; and 21 percent went towards art supplies or materials for projects or activities.
"The district is wonderful at providing books for the classroom," Lemus said. "But all of the book cases and tubs to hold the books, I had to provide."
Lemus' room is filled with shelves and plastic tubs that hold categories of books that help students with everything from learning about butterflies to rocks. Lemus also has puzzles and games that are geared towards aiding students who are having a tough time with one subject or another.
"Primary isn't what it used to be, we hardly have any down-time," she said. "They used to color and play. The kids don't get to do that now. They work hard."
Lemus said the posters, extra books and other materials that she uses to reward students that have worked hard and done well help to keep school fun and keep the students from burning out on work.
"Every teacher I know has some kind of reward system in their room," Shipley said. "These [rewards] are in essence like a paycheck. We as adults work hard to reach our goals and are given a paycheck as our reward. The children these days are pushed so hard with standards and what they are expected to learn. Without rewards it is like expecting an adult to work at their highest potential at their job with no paycheck in the end, just a pat on the back and a 'hey good job'."
Shipley added that if she chose not to buy anything for her classroom it would affect not only their motivation but the amount the students would learn. Lemus said teaching would be more difficult if she didn't buy the supplemental and organizational materials for her class.
"If I didn't have my bookshelves I'd spend all my time just finding things. It's already a rarity to find teachers walking out of here at 3:15 and if they do they aren't empty handed," Lemus said.
Lemus does admit that she wouldn't expect the school to buy the things that make her room look, "pretty," but she said it adds to the sum total of the educational environment she wants to provide for her students.
Unfortunately even though educators and districts did not experience the cuts they were preparing for, teachers shouldn't expect the abundant supplies from the supply closet that they once enjoyed.
But this problem hasn't gone unnoticed and there is a way to help schools. Adopt a classroom is a non-profit organization with the goal of fostering community involvement in schools. Individuals or businesses can sign up with the organization and provide a $500 donation to the classroom of their choice or pick from a list of underserved classrooms in their area. The classroom receives 100 percent of the donation and the donor receives an itemized invoice of the purchases that the teacher made for the classroom with the money. The donor will even receive correspondence from the students and teacher in the class. Target stores also has a classroom Wish-list page on their Web site with the names of schools that have a need for supplies and materials. Organizations or individuals can access the list and purchase items for schools. For more information go to adoptaclassroom.com or target.com keyword wish list.