As kids strap on their backpacks this week to head back to the classrooms of the Upper Perkiomen School District, their minds are on meeting teachers, mingling with friends and all the academics and activities on tap for the year ahead.
But for many of their parents, just getting to that point has proven to be a financial burden. In addition to newer clothes, book bags and other things like lunchboxes/bags, parents are finding it difficult to dig deeper in their pockets for mandatory school supplies.
In Upper Perk’s elementary level classrooms, it is up to the individual teachers to assign a list of supplies each student must bring in. And while many contain basic items like paper, crayons, pencils, folders and markers, others ask for disinfecting wipes, tissues and hand sanitizer.
Hereford Elementary School second-grade teacher Holly Francisco said it is up to each teacher to assign supplies as they deem necessary.
"It can vary teacher to teacher but mostly in the primary grades we ask for the basics," she said. "Then we ask for donations of the things we consider creature comforts. Like tissues we can go through a box a day."
And while many parents say they appreciate the fact that some teachers end up paying for supplies out of their own pockets if they’re not donated, the question of how to pay for more and more things in this economy remains a challenge.
Freedom Ambrose, of East Greenville, is the mother of three, a first-grader, sixth-grader and eighth-grader.
"It’s definitely hard to have to come up with that money," Ambrose said. "I pay school taxes, why can’t they supply pencils and the necessities? When I was in school my parents didn’t have to buy me all these things."
She went on to say students in the middle and high schools are instructed to bring a lot more – like specific brands and models of calculators and multiple binders, folders, highlighters, fine-point markers and book covers.
It begs the questions why taxes aren’t paying for basic supplies like paper and scissors, or why school districts can’t buy supplies in bulk more inexpensively and then divide the costs between parents, other parents added.
And while some said school supplies aren’t making a substantial dent in their budgets, others, like Amy Livingstone of Pennsburg, said things on the horizon, like pay-to-participate sports and activities, threaten to be financially restrictive.
While families like the Livingstones can try to shop around back-to-school sales to save money on supplies, she said she hopes she never sees the day Upper Perk implements a pay-to-participate program like neighboring Boyertown School District.
Boyertown parents must pay $100 for each co-curricular activity, like chorus or band, or sport each child takes part in. That fee was implemented in the 2011-12 budget.
Upper Perk, alternately, proposed a $50 pay-to-participate fee per sport or co-curricular activity for this year but tabled it until at least 2012-13. That fee was expected to bring in $37,100 in revenue for the district.
"I hope that doesn’t happen here," Livingstone said. "It would be a shame. My kids are very active and it keeps them busy, out of trouble and they make a lot of friends and have close relationships with their teammates. It’s a network for the parents too. If they do that here there are a lot of kids who wouldn’t be able to go out for things. If the parents can’t afford it, they just can’t participate."