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Back To School Breaks The Budget


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Once upon a time, Verona’s kids headed back to school with little more than new shoes and a pencil box. Not now.

Children head back to Verona’s public schools today with backpacks crammed with classroom supplies, from pens, pencils and Crayons to notebooks, sticky notes, Kleenex and sophisticated calculators–all paid for by their parents. They were spared paying for cleaning supplies only because the district moved to a centrally purchased green cleaner policy last year. Despite that, the tab was steep for many Verona families, and felt steeper because of the still weak economy.

Pauline Davey spent $237 on classroom supplies at Staples for her three children, two in Laning Avenue elementary school and one at H.B. Whitehorne middle school. That, she notes, was after using her Staples Rewards and  15% off coupon the retailer now sells, and recycling “any item that still has some life left in it,” she quips. “What really concerns me is that teachers ask parents to by brand-specific items, such as Mead 3-subject notebooks at $7.99 each,” she says. Davey, like many other parents, bought generic notebooks for less and hopes they will pass muster in the classroom.

In this back-to-school season, many Verona parents are voicing in public what they have previously only griped about in private: That given the economy and what we pay in taxes to fund our schools, we shouldn’t be paying for classroom supplies, too. Dina DeVivo spent $270 on classroom supplies for only the two of her three children who are in HBW, not including the $70 she had to shell out to buy printer ink print out forms no longer printed out and sent home by the school (and be prepared for school projects). Particularly grating was the cost of the color graphing calculator now required for Algebra I students that has a list price of $159.99. The district worked out a deal with Texas Instruments for a discount, but the outlay was still sizable. “It is absolutely ludicrous,” says DeVivo. “You cannot expect the responsibility to fall on the families. If you want a $126 calculator, you should supply it.”

Verona’s cost of parent-provided school supplies seems high when compared to national spending. According to the National Retail Federation, American families are likely to spend just $88.99 per family on school supplies this year. How is that possible? Not every school district requires parents to provide supplies. A recent report in the Grand Rapids Press noted that, since a Michigan supreme court decision in the 1970s, that state’s school districts may not charge for things that are “an integral, fundamental part” of elementary and secondary education. Some districts, like this one in Iowa, set district-wide lists of generic items that are clearly marked with a note that parents who cannot afford supplies can use an assistance fund.

In Verona, while the Board of Education provides a certain amount in its budget for supplies, classroom supply lists are set teacher by teacher and school by school. Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett (formerly Toriello) says that all principals review the lists for their schools and will tell teachers to remove an item from the student supply list and add it to their list of budgeted supplies. “Many of the items that appear on the student lists are personal items that the students would likely purchase on their own,” she says. Jewett notes that the graphing calculator is a “recommended purchase” and says that there are limited class sets available to provide a calculator to a student who has not bought his own. She says that while principals have told her that they have never had a parent approach them about being unable to supply items on the list, parents could ask their SCA for assistance in case of hardship.

But that is unlikely to happen, for several reasons. In a district perceived to be as affluent as Verona, parents might feel uneasy about airing their financial woes in front of a group comprised of their friends and neighbors.  And Jewett’s assertions notwithstanding, the SCAs would be unable to help. DeVivo, a two-term past president of the Laning SCA who is now in her second term as president of the Conference of SCA (an umbrella group for all Verona SCAs) says that SCAs are not set up to make such case-by-case charity decisions. “We don’t give to charities now except the Human Needs Food Pantry in Montclair,” she says, noting that the SCAs voted to do so because the pantry serves families in Verona who have been having difficulty making ends meet.

It’s enough to make DeVivo shake her head in disbelief. ” You are saying that there are people who can’t afford to feed their families and then you are asking them to pay for all these supplies. ”

What have you spent to go back to school today? Take our poll.

[polldaddy poll=5482986]

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. Thank you for publishing this article. At some point there needs to be some restraint on these excessive requests. For example, for one elementary child, I was asked to purchase two pencil sharpeners. Multiply that by 25 children means there are 50 pencil sharpeners in one class in addition to a traditional classroom sharpener. Is this really necessary? Most might say, well it’s just a little thing, but these little things add up quickly. There are many families struggling with finances, but they struggle in silence. Thankfully, Verona does offer assistance to a few families in critical financial need. I agree with you that most families are considered among the affluent. However, in reality these families struggle by cutting expenses elsewhere time and time again. I can only hope that this information will make it into the hands of the teachers and school administrators who can look at what ways to reduce this expense to all parents.

  2. Virginia,

    Thank you for spotlighting this growing problem, which (up to now, at least) has flown beneath the radar but poses a heavy burden on school families’ budgets. The story deserves to be picked up by other local and regional media outlets.

  3. Last year my daughter was asked to come to school with 4 separate composition notebooks and three of the specified Mead notebooks mentioned in the article. At the end of the year 5 of the 7 combined notebooks had about 4-5 pages used in each. It was a waste of both money and resources. I cannot use them this year because the new teachers have a different requirement. I understand school supplies are needed and starting the year with new ones is important, but there’s got to be a better way.

  4. Students in Driver’s Eduction class at the high school were given a CD with the drivers manual on it and asked to download and print that out at home as well.


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