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Teachers often reach into own pockets to stock classrooms

When it comes to stocking classrooms with supplies, teachers still dig into their own pockets.

A new survey from the National School Supply & Equipment Association found that American public school teachers spend, on average, about $485 of their own money on school supplies for their classrooms each year, even shopping at discount stores in order to afford more for their students.

Judi Steele, president of The Public Education Foundation, has gone on record to suggest that teachers typically spend $1,600 out of pocket every year to set up their classrooms.

Jennifer Shevokas, 29, is a fourth-grade teacher at Conners Elementary School, 3810 Shadow Peak Drive. This is her seventh year teaching. Shevokas said buying things for her classroom was “part of the job. I like to be prepared. … If no one else is going to donate the materials, I’ll do it myself.”

So far this year, Shevokas has spent $100 for classroom supplies. Usually, she said, she uses $250 of her own money at the start of the school year. In the past, she has spent as much as $500.

It’s not just teachers who step up to the plate. The start of another school year often means that parents receive a list of suggested items to contribute. The list runs the gamut from paper towels to pencils.

Conners Elementary’s list had about 20 items this year. Which one will parents probably find most surprising?

“USB drives,” Shevokas said. “We do a lot of word processing. They don’t have to have it — we can always save to the server — but it helps them if they want to transport work to and from home. It’s probably the most expensive item on the list, but, you know, we are in the age of technology.”

Sharon Johnson, has a daughter, Regan, 7, who entered second grade this year at Ober Elementary School, 3035 Desert Marigold Lane. She said she has mixed feelings about being asked to buy items when most businesses would supply things automatically as part of doing business.

“I get it. We can all pitch in to help,” Johnson said. “I’ve just been kind of frustrated about how much money my daughter’s free education is costing. It starts out with a school list, then it kind of continues with supply drives throughout the year and fundraising projects.”

Ober sent home a list for each grade level. About 20 items were under her daughter’s grade. Johnson helped in her daughter’s classroom last year and said she “saw just tons of unused pink erasers and things like that, and I thought, ‘There’s no way they’re going to use all these by the end of the year.’ I don’t know, maybe their lists need to be updated periodically. It seems like some of the items aren’t as necessary as others.”

Johnson estimated that she spent about $50 for classroom supplies this year.

“I feel like if I don’t pitch in at all, then I’m not helping out,” she said. “I feel guilty if I don’t, so I kind of feel obligated.”

Johnson added that the school includes wording at the bottom of the list saying it’s not an obligation to contribute but that it is appreciated. “So you kind of feel like you have to. I do, anyway,” she said.

Carolyn Edwards, president of the Clark County School Board, said teachers will need to continue paying for supplies. The district used to have a budget that allowed teachers about $250 for supplies.

“But we had to cut that with the budget,” she said. “We’ve lost over $550 million over the last four or five years, so we had to cut budgets significantly. It’s rough, I agree. It’s hard on teachers, hard on schools, but until our budget (increases) … the first thing we do is hire teachers. Supplying teachers with supply money is one of the last things (to be addressed). That’s a harsh reality.”

The Teacher Exchange, launched in 2002, is a sort of shopping emporium where teachers can find school supplies. For a donation of $20, they receive 500 points with which to “buy” supplies.

The choices are seemingly endless, with rows of paper, notebooks, backpacks, crayons, journals and glue sticks at the exchange’s warehouse at 3165 W. Sunset Road. Plans are to move the exchange to a spot near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but details have not been finalized.

“I haven’t gone since my first and second year,” Shevokas said of the exchange. “For those years, it really was beneficial. It’s more for those teachers who are trying to get established. Last year, I went to the thing that the Mirage holds, their kickoff, but this year they scheduled it while I was working. It’s hard to get there when you’re supposed to be at school.”

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.