Teachers pick up tab for supplies

March 07, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,Maryland Department of EducationSun Staff Writer

First-grade teacher Trudi Daddio says she can't resist a rap tape if the message is about math or reading. The last time she reached for her wallet to buy instructional materials for her students, it was for rap tapes in French.

"I guess I've already spent about $150 this year," said Ms. Daddio, who, like many Baltimore public school teachers, supplements her school's ration of supplies.

That won't change any time soon. The proposed 1995-1996 budget allots $9.7 million for textbooks and other instructional supplies -- a 24.3 percent decrease from the amount approved this year. An additional $897,968 for supplies is requested for special-education classrooms.

Whether their spending is driven by desire or by need, city teachers look to the annual school system budget to keep supply closets stocked -- and some say it does not.

They shell out an average $362 each -- or $2.5 million per year -- for items their schools do not buy or cannot afford, according to a recent union survey.

District finance officials counter that there is enough money in school budgets to cover books and supplies, if schools choose to buy them. "Teachers should lobby their principals and get involved with their school-improvement teams," James E. Hall, interim finance and procurement director, said yesterday.

The district's total $646.6 million budget proposal is before the school board now; a public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 16 at North Avenue headquarters. The board must approve a budget total by April 6, then each school will propose in May how much to spend on supplies, and other goods and services.

The schools control most spending within their budgets. They can choose to hire a music teacher over buying supplies; they can give up a counselor to get new books. This will be only the second year that this type of school-based financial planning has been in effect citywide. Some of the kinks are still being worked out.

"What we saw from last year was that schools were spending the money on computers, or on computer software, or on contractual services, and spending less on books and instructional supplies," Mr. Hall said.

The main reason the district's proposed allocation for supplies is lower, he said, is that it's based on school spending patterns. Last year, a projection was made without knowing, for example, whether schools would use the annual order of 121,380 No. 2 pencils. This year, schools will be able to estimate a little better.

Still, some teachers fear that the budget decrease won't provide enough pencils, scissors, rulers and other essentials.

Dr. Phillip H. Farfel, the school board president, said, "The whole pie should be bigger, and schools are squeezing what they can out of what we can afford to give them. Some of what they see as frills are basic materials in suburban schools."

Michelle Strutt, a third-grade teacher at Morrell Park Elementary, bought a $100 computer for her classroom this year. "The school provides all of the basics I need, but we can't have a computer in every classroom. I wanted my kids to have it."

And at James McHenry Elementary, where Ms. Daddio works, there have been few problems. "We don't want for basic supplies; our principal makes sure of that," she said.

"No matter what the budget is, many teachers will continue to buy materials for their students," said Superintendent Walter G. Amprey. "What we need to know is what tools are needed today."

The 6,800-member Baltimore Teachers Union based its estimates of teacher spending on 3,700 responses to a survey designed to gather information for contract negotiations. The contract is open for salary talks this year.

A few survey respondents thought the union should seek reimbursement for their expenditures, which some teachers deduct from their income taxes.

"When you are talking about a [starting] salary of $25,000, you can ill afford to spend that much money," for supplies, union president Irene B. Dandridge said. A starting teacher with a master's degree earns $24,809.

The cost of labor may be one reason more money is not available for supplies. Only 4.2 percent of the total proposed budget is for supplies and materials; 76.3 percent is for salaries and benefits.

Spending

Per-pupil spending on textbooks and other instructional materials for 1992-1993, the most recent data available.

Anne Arundel County 117.97

Baltimore 101.64

Baltimore County 104.12

Carroll County 144.86

Harford County 157.81

Howard County 162.37

Top spender:

Worcester County 220.77

Low spender:

Cecil County 97.79

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