Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Are you tired of getting stuck with the bill for school supplies?

LopezA friend of mine, Mika Mingasson, bought a ream of paper recently for her daughter's Melrose Avenue Elementary School class because the school had run out. She said another parent bought five reams.

I guess there's an upside here, with supply shortages serving as a lesson in conservation. But Mika's tale reminded me how utterly commonplace it has become for parents and teachers to reach into their pockets because of budget cuts followed by more budget cuts.

The annual bake sale is now a weekly operation. Class sizes are growing, faculties shrinking. At our daughter's school, my wife is involved in constant fundraising efforts to pay for everything from supplies to staff positions.

By giving so much, are we letting legislators and school district officials off the hook for funding shortages and management lapses?

Tell me what you think. And if you're a teacher or parent, tell me about your out-of-pocket expenses.

I'm sure there are enough stories out there that, together, we could fill a book.

I'll donate the paper.

-- Steve Lopez

Comments () | Archives (69)

Oh, please... My two children are in private school due to the failing California school districts - currently costing our personal household almost 30,000+ per year - and we are sacrificing to make it happen. PLUS, we pay for all school supplies!! The days of FREE education are over, and parents should cut out the DirecTV and just pay for paper and pens themselves.

At least 85% of LAUSD's budget is for salary/medical benefits/retirement...teachers have been buying supplies for years, this is nothing new.

When I taught high school chemistry I'd spend $300+/year on copy paper (they give you some but nowhere near enough), construction paper, lab items, whitboard pens, tape, Kleenex, etc.

Your children are in private schools because you make a fortune and pay very little taxes. What exactly are you sacrificing? Taking your trophy wife to Italy again this year?

Hey Steve (commenter) - it would be nice if private school was an option for everyone. But surprise surprise, its not. The only private schools in my area all have religious affiliation, and i refuse to contribute the brainwashing of my children. I dont understand why there arent more private school options with no affiliation, but thats a whole other topic.

We already pay for paper and pens - its called TAXES. And while I dont mind the fact that Ive already purchased several school items for my sons entire class, not to mention snacks, juices and whatever they need, its sad and pathetic that it has come to this.

Doesn't most of the cost for any business go towards employee's salaries, benefits, retirement? Why would it be any different in the public sector?

There is a lot of money to be made in education, which is why private entities are trying to take over schools, so when public schools become private--we are going to have soooo many people who can't afford it and their kids won't be going to school. Education will only be available to the haves.....It's already happening in college.

What will happen to society then?

when my wife was a teacher at hart elem., in canoga park, i used to do all her copying. at my job at the federal building in wla. i figured, let the feds pay for it, since most of her students were illega aliens.

Mr. Lopez,

Given my absolute ignorance of budget management by our elected (and appointed) officials, I cannot say one way or another the scorn belonging to such bureaucrats with regards to cost of school supplies. I can attest that today, not an hour ago, I had just signed for a loan, requesting the funds for -- you guessed it "school supplies." As a student (undergrad) at CSULA, THE constant attitude among students is the sense that books and other supplies is criminally expensive. I will say it; first and foremost, with few exceptions, the books stink to high heaven. We are blessed with, a nine-page-revised, jacked-up price wonder -- OR worse; plain crap texts, costing an arm and a leg (example: labor-econ-coffee-table-breakin-sized...without MENTION of John Stuart Mill nor Paul Krugman, but loaded with Gary "rational actor" Becker, bless them). Your blog post, has inspired me to embark on a bit of research and launch into a blog entry (CSULA blog), utilizing your insight as chief reference. Glad to find L.A. Times more focused locally, and your words are better than coffee, sir.

California Education Code requires public school districts to provide all necessary supplies for students as a part of their free appropriate public education. The practice of sending home supply lists for parents to buy or charging for certain school activities, though it is prevalent, is not allowable. Many schools do it because it has been done for so long and no one really knows the Education Code on this topic. It is true that approximately 85% of school district expenditures are tied up in salaries and benefits, not to mention another 8-10% for utilities, insurance, and other non-discretionary costs. It is difficult right now to make schools work without donations because the Governor and legislature continue to slash school funding. We are now at the bottom of the pile looking up at all other 49 states in per pupil spending. We need to fix the way schools are funded to correct this problem.

kuruc, prepared to be talking to feds pretty soon, you just stole from the govt and our tax money.

As a child-free taxpayer, I think it's just fine for the parents to pony up some extra for their children's education. I recognize that society as a whole benefits from educating children, so I'm OK paying for it. However, if parents had more of a financial stake in the schools -- and by that I mean paying a surtax for each child they enroll -- I think they'd both appreciate the contributions of the rest of us more than they do, and be more likely to get involved to make their children's schools succeed.

I'm neither a teacher nor a parent but I think it's pretty sad when you walk into a Target or an Albertsons and see those signs requesting you sponsor a school with your store credit card purchases. WaMu used to have a program designed for schools too but it was quietly discontinued and I haven't seen anything for Chase.

With all of the money that is available in the world, it's a shame that we underfund the future more and more as the years go by. I am 25 years old, and I remember when I was in grade school and having to have bake sales to pay for arts and crafts time, new books for our classroom library, etc.

I commend the American attitude of extending Foreign Aid especially in times of crises such as the disaster in Haiti but what of our own children?

My daughter goes to a LAUSD elementary school in the SF Valley and our school is big on fundraising, for things that were basic when I was going to school. We pay for field trips, carnivals and parties; an art teacher, a PE teacher and a computer teacher; we bought books for the library and had a full-time librarian (until the district cut back her hours). And we donate paper and school supplies on top of that. Many of the parents give an annual donation to our fundraising organization of hundreds of dollars, and participate constantly in fundraising events. The district pays for nothing beyond teachers', staff and adminstrators' salaries, and for maintenance of the school itself. This goes way beyond donating a ream of paper or two.

To reply to commenter #1 Steve: I cannot pay 30k a year to send my child to private school, even with sacrificing everything in my budget. It's ignorant and calloused to suggest that that is an option for most people. By the way, most parents of private school students that I know still have to fundraise for their school. Private schools don't pay for it all.

Why not charge all the illegal alien parents a fee to have their children receive services?

Most of them get paid in cash, so its not like they pay taxes. And if they have a bunch of children, then they should learn a lesson; have only as many kids as you can afford to raise.

What has happened..when I was in school we had 35 kids in our class, NO teachers aid, music, art , pencils and paper. What has changed??? Why did teacher's need aids?? I for one, would not admit a child if they could not speak english..sorry, I know in LA that is not the right thing to say, however these kid are costing to much.

As a teacher who spends a lot on classroom supplies to make the curriculum more vital and interesting for the students I see nothing wrong with asking parents who can to donate.

Right now we are in the process of trying to raise funds to send our fifth grade students to science camp. If you would like to help out, contributions of any amount would be gratefully accepted.

Make checks payable to Monte Vista Student Body Fund

Send to:
Monte Vista School
5423 Monte Vista Street
Los Angeles, CA 90042

Thank you

If I remember correctly, Steve Lopez's daughter goes to a public school in Silver Lake, where they live. If this is correct, the people who ragged on him about sending her to a private school should apologize.

As a high school teacher, I spend too much money in my classroom. What do I buy you ask? How about paper, pencils and binders on a regular basis for my students. Novels, flashdrives, and copying paper for the class.
Unfortunately, my parents do not donate and without the materials how are students going to make the grade. It is not going to happen on its own and that is why we fundraise. May I interest you in trail mix for a dollar or perhaps a carnation for your swetheart?

The money LAUSD has given to Scholastic over 5 millswould pay for supplies. The tax payers are being taken for a ride. The State Board of Education needs to do an Audit on LAUSD to see who is getting the tax payers money.

Here's where the power of journalism can come in: Please Howard Blume and Jason Song: Tell us WHERE all the money goes. Tell us WHY we still have such a bloated bureaucracy of non-school site positions, WHY are the mini-district offices still open, WHY is the district still hiring consultants.

I think the LAT is still so caught up in its 125 year revulsion to unions, it can't get over the fact that the non-union administration needs some serious scrutinizing.

Hardly a penny should go to any office not directly related to classroom teaching. And do not tell me that all those "curriculum development" and "teacher training" positions are directly related to classroom teaching! We teachers get our best ideas from each other, because we know exactly who our kids are, not some theoretical group of teens these out of classroom people talk about.

ALL the money needs to go INTO the classroom!!

If you want a simple, unpopular solution:

Reconsider Prop 13.

As a teacher it is nothing new to buy things out of pocket, what is new is having to fundraise in order to pay staff members. Our school has made so many changes to our budget this year just to pay our staff and yet the threat of losing one of our teachers is always present. An equal education should be a guarantee for every student and that is not possible when you keep cutting funds and increasing class sizes. Both the districts and the legislators need to stop wasting taxpayer money and invest in the future of california: our students.

It seems pretty clear that Prop. 13 has unintended consequences because it was never indexed to inflation. Had Prop. 13 allowed for the indexing of property values to CPI, you wouldn't have neighbors paying wildly disproportionate property taxes for similarly-valued homes. This is the same problem the federal government grapples with on a smaller scale with AMT (alternative minimum tax) every year.

The state needs more revenue... the schools need more money... If indexing property taxes to inflation moved CA public schools from last in the country even just closer to the middle, we'd all be better off, people would find private schools a luxury instead of a necessity (as some parents do). Would this fix all problems? Nope. But it would help the state get out of boom-bust of relying so much on income tax for revenue.

I usually spend up to $2000 per year of my now reduced salary for students. I teach in a low socio-economic elementary school. For years our district has provided Kleenex for classrooms-never happened when I went to public school. Now we ask parents to supply it and may get 1-2 boxes donated per our school!-not classroom. And commenting on other comments--Where are the comsumer groups keeping text book companies, and suppliers in line--prices are outragous.

Funny you should ask. Yes, it could fill a book, but please leave out the idiotic comments about illegal aliens' children. Those kids will be the future tax base of the state.
The amount of fundraising done depends highly on the willingness and ability of the faculty to involve parents. Where the administration supports this, it can leads to spectacular results (Warner Ave Elementary and Castle Heights Elementary are prime examples). Once active parents are involved, the effort can be self-sustaining. But it is a lot of work to supplant what used to be the function of the state. It can be fun, but it often turns into a full-time obligation. Unfortunately, such efforts cannot be applied in many lower income communities. The expertise, time, and money is simply not available.
Yes, it is illegal to ask parents to fork over money. But if it isn't done, who is going to pay for those supplies and enrichment activities? Despite assertions to the contrary, teachers are not paid enough to contribute a portion of their salary to pay for someone else's children education. Consequently, schools in poor areas often depend on teachers' sacrificing part of their meager pay. But this just can't compare with affluent public schools. Is it any wonder that most poor schools score low in those dreaded "accountability" tests? One more thing: the Times has reported that LAUSD cannot support athletic programs at the current rate. If you think fundraising for education was bad, wait until the kids have to pay to play.

Steve Lopez... our La Times entitlement chief
Things cant be that bad... I know a retired LAUSD counselor who pays the mortgage on his 1 million dollar house with retirement money he gets from the state.... reminds me, I need to talk to my boss about a nice pension here in reality land..

1 2 3 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: