A win for students—and a PR win for the school board

Board takes action to reduce the financial burden on families buying back-to-school supplies
By: | September 23, 2019
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi

Dan Brigman is the superintendent for Laurens County Schools in Georgia.

We have surpassed the 10-year anniversary of our great nation spiraling into a recession that left public schools and Boards of Education scrounging for essential funding to keep schools open. Districts also struggled to keep buses running and classrooms staffed. Class sizes increased as budget deficits were addressed through attrition, layoffs, and deep cuts to personnel.

External partnerships that were previously an added benefit to supplement our classrooms quickly became a primary source of support for items such as school supplies, tutoring services, health care, and more. Parents were asked to replace the declining instructional supply funds that were drastically cut or totally eliminated from state or local budgets.

The end of every summer break now is marked by retailers stocking shelves with school supplies, store isles clogged with pallets full of paper, pencils, tape, glue sticks, notebooks, and other items needed for the start of school.

Stores making massive profits have become accustomed to the publication of the annual “Class Supply List” for each teacher, grade level, and school that drives purchases for the new academic year. An issue with equity was clearly obvious as a result of the variation in school supply lists determined by each teacher and each school across the district.

Parents asked to partially fill the funding gap

Unless you are a lottery winner or have unlimited disposable income each month, the start of school calls for most parents to financially prepare well in advance for the requested necessities of the first days of school. As a father of four, I understand how fast children outgrow last year’s clothes.

They also have a strong desire for the latest fad in shoes, access to that special shirt or pair of jeans that are a “must-have” for the school year. And, we can’t forget the fresh haircut to promote positive personal hygiene.

As a result, supply lists have grown to include items that previously were purchased by schools or districts. These items include cleaning materials for disinfecting desks and classrooms, hand sanitizers, tissue, soap, glue sticks, candy, staplers, and the lists go on.

Superintendents and principals should be mindful of class supply lists and items we expect parents or guardians to purchase in preparation for the start of school. Often, other major family sacrifices occur to make way for the purchase of materials at the start of the year including rent, gas for work, or food to go in the cabinets.

Parent supply lists have grown to include items that previously were purchased by schools or districts.

Last year, the practice of increasing class supply lists was discussed among our principals and Board of Education in Laurens County, Georgia. I—n an effort to drastically reduce the financial burden class supply lists place on families, particularly families of low wealth, our Board unanimously approved an additional allocation to all schools in the amount of $25 per student. These additional dollars were used to move towards eliminating non-essential items included in the supply lists.

In addition to the financial allocation, all class supply lists were closely analyzed by principals and district leaders with action taken to bulk purchase most items that are essential for the start of the year. Inequities were clearly evident as supply lists varied from classroom to classroom, grade level to grade level, and school to school.

Such inequities often result in some teachers and schools receiving fewer supplies than others. In addition to these inequities, the embarrassment that certain children experienced who could not afford the increasing list of supplies intensified in areas of high poverty.

Board action leads to savings and increased equity

The Laurens County, GA Board members took aggressive action to address these inequities by standardizing school supply lists. Each list was analyzed by a team of educators to determine what was important for children with all classrooms treated equally according to grade level. Once the lists were established, the district created a process of aligned purchasing.

This consolidated purchasing effort not only provided relief to our students and families but also resulted in a tremendous reduction in unit cost for each item purchased in bulk. Extreme savings were clearly evident as a result of bulk purchasing.

Item Parent/Guardian Store Unit Price District Bulk Purchase Unit Price
49 count box #2 pencils $11.99 $7.78
30 count box Glue Sticks $17.99 $7.90
One pack 150 sheet
notebook paper
$2.49 $.79

For example, one pack of 150 count notebook paper was purchased in bulk for $ .79 per pack with the individual pack priced at $2.49 in the store. The unit price of one 48 count box of #2 pencils was $11.99 on the shelf. Purchasing the same box of pencils in bulk resulted in $7.78 for the same box. A box of 30 glue sticks was purchased in bulk for $7.90 per box, while the store price for the same individual box was $17.99.

These are only a few of the numerous items purchased by the system rather by individual parents or guardians, resulting in significant savings of essential dollars for our families and the school system.

Although the school year started with a greater burden placed on school leaders and district staff because of the distribution of purchased materials, parents and guardians continue to express their gratitude for our board taking action to reduce the financial burden on our families during a very important time of the academic year.

Laurens County is striving to get back to the basics regarding anticipated supplies needed for all students to successfully start the new school year. School leaders are encouraged to provide oversight to this common practice, particularly with a higher number of children and families living below the poverty line.

With last year’s process behind us, we look forward to a more efficient and effective purchasing process to start earlier in the summer while maximizing savings for the school system, students, and families we serve. The board’s action has proved to be a win for our families, teachers, and board members.

Dan Brigman is the superintendent for Laurens County Schools in Georgia.