YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s that time of year again: School is just around the corner. And with a new school year comes a new round of back-to-school shopping — an annual tradition that some parents say is too hard on the pocketbook.
Depending on the school and grade level, and how closely parents follow school supply lists, back-to-school shopping can be affordable. But as supply lists become more demanding, it can quickly become expensive.
While some parents question the need for them to buy, say, hand sanitizer, teachers and administrators say many items are needed in a changing classroom environment.
To investigate just how much school supplies can cost a family, the Yakima Herald-Republic did a cost breakdown of supply lists from several Yakima elementary schools.
The findings: big price ranges among schools as well as within grade levels; some interesting supply selections by teachers; and sizable demand for certain items.
School supply lists for 10 of Yakima’s 14 elementary schools were obtained through school websites or email. Barge-Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Ridgeview and Roosevelt lists were not available.
Item prices were checked at one retail store. Sales tax was not included in the final total. The lowest-price items were selected, unless the list asked for a specific brand. The exercise was also based on buying everything on the list, something not all families do.
More expensive items — such as shoes, calculators and backpacks — were not included in the total cost.
Kindergarten supplies, on average, were the most expensive, at $31.21 per student. Fourth-grade supply shopping, meanwhile, had the lowest average, at a little under $22 per student.
Parents of Gilbert students will have to spend the most to fulfill their supply requests, at $35.27 per student. Whitney Elementary came at the bottom, averaging $13.91 per student.
Kindergarten students at Hoover could theoretically bring in more than $70 worth of supplies. At Robertson Elementary, families could fork over as little as $18.
Even among fifth-graders, where typically fewer items are required, there are major price differences: from just shy of $5 for McClure students to almost $45 at McKinley.
Some of these totals were affected by unexpected items: Headphones, snacks, zipper storage bags and hand sanitizer, for example, might surprise those who haven’t been in elementary school for a while.
Another contributing factor to significant price ranges was the number of items the supply lists requested. For example, Hoover Elementary recommends that first-graders bring in 36 glue sticks each. Gilbert fourth-graders are asked to bring 120 pencils.
Some parents support the changing landscape of the 21st-century classroom, while others ponder whether it’s too much to ask.
“I have to buy school supplies for the whole classroom ’cause some parents won’t buy them,” wrote parent Amie Gohl in a Facebook post, “then half way through the year, the teachers send home a note saying I have to buy them again.”
Another popular topic among parents was the sharing of supplies. Many teachers now just compile the items and have them ready for students to use, regardless of who bought them. Some parents felt it was wrong to share their pencils and paper with those who may not have followed the list.
Some parents, however, are pleased that prices now are much lower than they would be later in the year because of back-to-school promotions. Some sympathized with the burden on teachers who pay for materials.
“I am OK with teachers asking for things like Lysol wipes or hand sanitizer,” wrote Yakima resident Sandi DeBord on Facebook. “After all, it is our kids messing the classroom up. Why should we think it’s the teachers job to clean it ... with supplies she/he had to buy?”
Retail experts expect back-to-school shopping revenues nationwide will be lower than last year, when record numbers were reported. According to a July National Retail Federation survey, families with school-age children will spend an average $634.78 on supplies, clothing and electronics this year, down from last year’s average of $688.62 per family.
School officials brought up two main arguments for the detailed and lengthy lists: The times are changing and new materials may be required, and teachers need some alleviation from out-of-pocket costs for school supplies.
The increasing reliance on sanitary items, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, is one method to keep kids healthy and in school, said Alan Matsumoto, principal at Garfield Elementary.
Electronic requirements, such as headphones and flash drives, also reflect a growing demand for newer technology and new ways of teaching students, he added.
Some of these items would be expensive for teachers to buy, who usually spend a lot on school supplies.
“What they don’t have available from the kids, they have to buy them out of their pocket,” Robertson principal Mark Hummel said. “I never get to asking them (the teachers) just how much they spend out of pocket.”
Judy Flaks, a third-grade teacher at Garfield, spent about $500 in supplies for her class last school year. She said most teachers tend to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies to help the students.
“Teachers want their students to have the basic needs,” Flaks said. “Teachers are willing to go the extra (mile) and if the parents can’t provide the materials, the teachers are more than willing to help.”
Pedro Pacheco, also a teacher at Garfield, acknowledges that seeing students bringing in more writing utensils and facial tissue has helped keep his costs down. He spent $200 on school materials last year.
He said he is not so demanding of his students about school supplies because he knows it can be a challenge. If they can bring them in or not, that’s fine, said Pacheco. Most supply lists, after all, are not strictly enforced.
Back-to-school shopping, though, has unofficially become mandatory, he added. Pacheco ultimately believes stores have a different agenda around this time of year.
“They would love to put that stuff up after the last day of school,” said Pacheco. Much like students, “we don’t want to hear about back-to-school stuff that early, either.”