When it comes to public school budgets, the classroom is where financial realities affect the way we teach our kids. Do students have the textbooks, paper and art supplies they need to learn?
Like many districts, the struggles with how to supply classrooms with paper, textbooks, tissue boxes, art materials and other essentials in the face of ongoing budget cuts.
Further complicating the issue, a recent lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union contended that some public schools were illegally requiring parents to provide materials or fees for their children’s educations. That lawsuit was settled with the state agreeing to enforce existing laws banning the practice.
That means a school can't require students to bring their own calculators to math class, and fees can’t be charged for wood shop, art or science classes.
“We have to be careful, and we have to be compliant,” said Rey Mayoral, principal of . "... Now what we have to do is we have to supply all those materials, and we can not ask students or their parents to pay for anything.”
The class-action ACLU lawsuit, filed against California last year on behalf of students and parents, accuses public schools of illegally charging fees for educational materials.
Assembly Bill 165 is now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and the ACLU has said it will drop its lawsuit if the bill is signed into law. The bill would require that superintendents assess the legality of fees collected in their districts.
Although schools can’t require materials, they can still ask for donations, and Mayoral said it’s donations to the PTA and other “support groups” that pay for many of the technologies and field trips on local campuses.
At Novato High, the PTSA has allocated about $500 per teacher. Money also comes from the athletic booster club and the booster club for .
“I think the parents step up, but there are teachers who go out and buy things out of their own pocket,” Mayoral said. “That’s always been.”
He added, “The unique thing about Novato schools is our district and our parents and our schools work together, and we make it work.”
Rick Van Adelsberg, principal at , said he’s able to provide $150 per teacher out of his budget, and the PTA/ELAC organization provides between $600 to $800 to each classroom teacher “for support in general.” Teachers then use that money to pay for supplies, field trips and classroom activities.
Nancy Kawata, principal of , said she doesn’t want any of her teachers spending their own money for supplies. The school funds classroom materials out of district money, PTA funds and also other programs, such as Donors Choose, and eScrip. That amount varies year by year, she said, but she declined to specify an amount.
Schools use a combination of discretionary money from the district and PTA donations to provide teachers with what they need.
Karen Maloney, the district’s chief financial officer, explained that each school is allocated money based on the number of students. For elementary schools, it’s $25.54 per student, for middle schools $32.03 per student, for high schools $39.94, and for alternative sites like and NOVA, it’s $32.03 per student.
“It’s allocated out to the school sites, so pretty much they all allocate it out to different classrooms to buy supplies, office supplies and things like that,” Maloney said.
The schools can use the money as needed.
Maloney emphasized that parent donations are always appreciated — and needed.
“Of course, if parents are able to do it, we are so grateful, because it is going to be a cost that we’re not used to paying for,” she said.
For instance, the district just had to allocate $10,000 extra to school sites to buy calculators.
Mayoral said Novato High and other schools have to prioritize.
“We basically fund those things that are of priority for classrooms.” At the top of the list, essentials such as copy machines, copy paper and toner.
“Those are $24,000, $25,000 a year,” he said. “Then, other supplies like erasers for the white board and the markers and things of that nature. Grade books and things that teachers need. It’s almost kind of bare-boned, but we make it work.”
“If it wasn’t for our parent group, we wouldn’t have the technology we have now,” Mayoral added.