JCPS to parents - Don't buy school supplies just yet - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS to parents - Don't buy school supplies just yet

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) –  Kool-Aid, paper plates, dry-erase markers, copy paper and Ziploc bags – not what you would expect to find on your child’s “Back to School” supply list.

But that’s exactly what some teachers in Jefferson County Public Schools have been asking parents to purchase for the classroom.

It’s a concern some district officials say they’ve had for years, one that was reflected recently in an unfavorable state audit that found it increasingly difficult for students’ families to afford the “required and optional classroom supply lists.”

Examples of JCPS school lists show that parents were asked to buy items that could cost $50 to $100 or more in supplies.

Now, JCPS has issued new orders to schools for the 2014-15 year – keep it to the basics. The schools will pay for the rest.

“We are in the process of creating a list of the fundamentals that a student needs – things like pencils, pens, notebooks, loose-leaf paper and a binder – and those are the things we will be asking parents to purchase,” said Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for JCPS.

“The bottom line is that we want to relieve parents from the burden of purchasing things we believe should be purchased by the school,” he said. “All parents would be asked to do is buy the fundamentals.”

A “general” school supply list

The general school supply list will be finished within the next week and shared with parents who have children at the district’s 155 schools, Hensley said.

District officials are also combing through the JCPS budget to find additional money so teachers can buy other supplies for their classroom, he said.

The district currently gives schools $140 per student annually for classroom supplies, or $13.5 million annually, said Cordelia Hardin, chief financial officer for JCPS. She says that is $3.7 million more than the $100 minimum prescribed by state budget rules.

Hardin says the district has a $9 million carryover from its budget last year that can be used to help cover the additional cost.

Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, whose office spent a year auditing the finances of JCPS, said Thursday he applauds district officials for their efforts. He said at JCPS and other school systems across the state “identified expensive lists of school and janitorial supplies that are crushing hard-working families.” 

“We are asking parents to subsidize their kid’s education beyond the taxes that they pay,” Edelen said. “Slashing these out-of-control “Back to School” lists is a huge, huge win for Jefferson County parents.”

Edelen said other districts should follow Jefferson County’s lead.

“I’m going to do all that I can to champion (this effort) across the state,” he said.

JCPS: "This has been a problem for 15 years”

District officials say they’ve been aware of inconsistent school supply lists for years.

“We have some schools with no supply lists, other schools that have supply lists that ask for $50 worth of supplies,” Hensley said. “This has been a problem for 15 years. There has to be a coherent system across the district. That is what we are attempting to do.”

But Hensley admits that can be a daunting challenge in a district with more than 150 schools.

 “We could never find the right time to do this,” he said. “It had to simply be done. We were able to finally say that it’s time to take this supply list seriously and fix it. It’s a difficult process and we are asking parents to be patient. We are attempting to do this correctly so that in the future we will have a coherent system that we don’t put an undue burden on parents.”

Hensley said schools were asked in June not to send out supply lists until the district could meet with principals. That won’t happen until Friday, when officials plan to begin crafting the fundamental school supply list and start making recommendations.

“There may be some variance at the different levels – an elementary list may look different than a middle or high school list,” he said. “We will honor the fact that there are different supplies needed at the different levels.”

But some teachers said Thursday they are skeptical.

"Fundamental is a word that should relate to reading strategies and building blocks of education, not to supply lists," a JCPS teacher told WDRB News. "What is considered a fundamental supply in my classroom, may not be in another classroom. Supplies necessary for kindergarten will be much different than those required in my third grade classroom."

And the Jefferson County Teachers Association said it was not aware of the district's plan.

"We can't really say whether we think it's a good idea or a bad idea because we don't know anything about it," said DeeAnn Flaherty, executive director of JCTA, which represents 5,600 teachers in JCPS. 

Schools getting lots of calls from parents

Steve Tyra, a principal at Bowen Elementary School, said Thursday he’s been getting calls and emails about when school supply lists will be sent out.

“We sent out our “Back to School” letters in early July and this year we didn’t include the supply list,” he said. “A lot of parents are very anxious to go out and buy the supplies, especially now when so many of those items are on sale.”

But Tyra says he supports the overall idea of having a general supply list.

“The overall goal here is that JCPS is trying to reduce the expense to families,” he said.

Hensley said the district also is looking at ways to streamline the process of getting supplies to teachers and schools, so that they will get the items quickly.

“Any time you utilize taxpayer dollars, you have to follow a procurement process to make sure the dollars are used appropriately,” he said. “We are looking at other ways to have those supplies delivered to the schools so they are not warehoused and schools have enough time to get what they need.”

And while some schools adhered to the district’s directive, others did not. During a shopping trip to Target in Springhurst on Thursday, supply lists for Stopher and Dunn elementary schools were listed in the “Back to School” aisle.

Brigitte Owens, principal at Stopher, told WDRB that she sent out school supply lists with report cards, which was before the district's directive was issued.

Carrie Gilbert, whose grandson attends Brandeis Elementary School, applauded the slimmed-down supply lists.

“Last year, I was asked to buy two containers of Clorox wipes, three boxes of Kleenex and two reams of copy paper, in addition to the pencils and notebooks my grandson needed,” she said.

“And then on top of that, I was asked to buy 12 packs of No. 2 pencils, which I am certain did not just go to my grandson, but to his entire class. It didn’t seem fair that some parents were essentially supplying the entire class with supplies.”

A kindergarten supply list from Brandeis for the 2012-13 year shows that parents were asked to each purchase 34 items that would have cost $57.02 at Walmart.

“That’s nothing,” Gilbert said. “When my oldest granddaughter was in high school, her graphing calculator alone cost me over $100. And that was just one item on the list.”

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0839 or @tkonz on Twitter. Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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