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Parents, Educators Weigh Ethics of School Supply Lists

PS 150

PS 150

Sept. 16, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge

Back to school means back to the store, for hours-long trips in search of folders, glue sticks, marble notebooks and everything else on parents’ annual classroom supply lists.

For many parents and educators, lengthy school supply lists have long represented a necessary evil in resource-strapped schools.

However, during a discussion last Thursday at District 30’s Community Education Council, which covers Long Island City, Astoria, Jackson Heights and parts of Sunnyside/Woodside, many wondered whether local action could be taken to improve the process.

Each school determines its own classroom supply requests. They must weigh supply costs against professional development, equipment and textbook needs, according to the Department of Education’s budget and resource guide.

Although no school can mandate classroom supply purchases, some CEC members noted that the supply lists have been written in a way that implies they are not optional.

Personal Supplies: Please send in the FIRST DAY of school,” begins a list provided by CEC member Robert Novak, whose daughter attends first grade at PS 122 in Astoria.

The list includes fifty Crayola crayons, four composition notebooks, one pack of computer paper and two boxes of baby wipes, among dozens of others. It is highly specific, calling for Expo markers, Elmer’s glue and Bounty paper towels.

“As a new parent to the school, I didn’t get that impression [that these are optional],” Novak said.

He also recalled an earlier statement by District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto that District 30’s poverty rate is 84 percent.

“Is it appropriate, in a district where 84 percent are living in poverty, to have them open their folders on the first day of school and see what amounts to a bill for hundreds of dollars?” he asked. “And if you can’t afford it, you’re starting the year off feeling embarrassed.”

The first grade supply list at PS 280 in Jackson Heights is presented as a checklist, and includes items such as a box of 25 to 50 sheet protectors, four composition notebooks and two boxes of tissues. PS 78 in Long Island City’s first grade list includes nine composition notebooks labeled for different subjects, different colored folders, scissors, tape and two boxes of pencils, among others, all labeled by name.

PS 166 in Astoria lists six notebooks, two pencil packs, three glue sticks and more for its students, as well as a secondary list labeled “donations” for the class, which includes tissues, soap and hand sanitizer.

“When you ask children to come in the first day of school with eight marble notebooks with your name on it, and the kids who don’t come in with the eight marble notebooks – it is a shame,” Karen Schumacher, PTA President for PS 150 in Sunnyside, said. “It’s very clear who does and does not have.”

For his part, Composto responded, “[say] you’re a teacher. What do we do when we don’t have the supplies? Does that mean when the kids sneeze, we don’t have tissues for them? What do we do when we want copy paper?”

“It would be great if we had more money, but we don’t have that money,” he continued.

Following Thursday’s meeting, CEC 30 identified what co-president Deborah Alexander called a “two-pronged approach” to address the issue.

The first prong would be lobbying the City and State not only for increased school funding, but also potentially for a specific line item for classroom supplies, Alexander explained.

The second prong includes a number of more immediate goals.

The CEC considered suggesting that schools add disclaimers to lists, to indicate that all supply purchases are optional. However, Alexander noted, “[parents] wouldn’t necessarily buy school supplies, and then we’d have no school supplies.”

The group was more optimistic about crowd-funding options, where school communities could donate to a single pot, rather than put individual families on the spot for supplies. This method would also allow schools to buy items in bulk, for a cheaper total cost.

The CEC is also considering how to encourage classroom donations from businesses and nonprofits.

“In the best of worlds, we should have these supplies. But at the end of the day, we’re limited [in the] amount of money,” Composto said.

email the author: news@queenspost.com

24 Comments

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Avoid the Noid

As a first grade teacher I agree the supply list is excessive but that’s life. I buy in bulk at Coscto and sell for a markup to the children out of a minivan during recess.

Reply
dc

I’m sure the actual poverty rate is much, much lower. There are plenty of people scamming the system for free lunch and other handouts and goodies. I’d be willing to bet that the people that are crying over having to buy $50 of supplies have kids walking around with the latest iPhone and sneakers.

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Gabriela

I have one child in P.S 11 his school supply list did not cost $50 his supplies from the list given in June for him to go to 2nd grade was more like $85 because i did not want to skimp out, since he started school there have been 2 more lists send home with very name brand specific things, again i dont mind because its for his education so you figure now we are looking at $120 easily. this is not counting the $20 that the school asks as a “donation”. so now lets add in that i have a step daughter who goes to P.S150 you can double the quotes i have mentioned on here. This is not counting for the uniforms, shoes and backpacks. We are lucky to have the means to fund this for our children what what happens when A. there is a true hardship in the the family or B. when there are multiple kids in the family!?

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Yanketteny

Stop having kids and you won’t have to worry about supplies for multiple kids in your family. Can’t afford, don’t have them. Simple.

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Aileen

As I teacher, I can’t think of a single reason why a first grader would need 8 marble notebooks. Funding is certainly a huge issue, but what isn’t mentioned is how we’re teaching our kids. Maybe a lot of the supplies we’re asking for really isn’t needed (tissues aside).

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Anonymous visitor

I don’t know how they calculate free lunch. PS 150 is Title1 school and as result all kids are entitle to get free lunch and parents don’t have to provide any information about income. So 100 percent kids in PS 150 are count as living below poverty line which is obviously not true. The way they calculate this stuff is simply wrong but no one has business in correcting it especially schools. They get extra money for Title1 which they don’t want to loose it

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Native NYer

Thanks, you beat me too it. Also, in order to qualify for free lunch (if you actually put in an accurate income amount) the family income is 130% of the poverty level, so qualifying for free lunch does not mean a family is in poverty.

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Native NYer

This is BS. The poverty rate in zip code 11104 is less than 10%. This guy is pulling stats out of thin air or his arse: “He also recalled an earlier statement by District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto that District 30’s poverty rate is 84 percent.”

Reply
jd

My wife has been a school teacher for 15 years and every single year we pay at least $500 out of our pockets for school supplies for her students. The city does not provide notebooks, crayons or even the basic necessities like tissues and hand sanitizer. While school supply lists are optional it is the teachers and their families who make up the difference. Teachers have quotas on how many copies they can make, and have to purchase their own copy paper. If parents feel they can not afford supplies for their children, they can speak privately with the teacher and explain their situation.

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Yanketteny

This is all BS to me. You get a free education and you can’t afford to spend $50 bucks on your kids supplies? Really???

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Anonymous visitor

You have to be joking – how many glue sticks teacher needs in her house. As where money goes – no one knows but in PS150 Q most money are spent on TAG and Dual Languge classes.

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44th Street Resident

Big deal, buy whatever you can afford and that’s it.
Yes, I agree with poster above who says city wastes money on bike lanes and other nonsense yet can’t get wipes or paper towel for students. We pay some of the highest taxes on our income and we still have to buy pencils and glue sticks? I know for a fact that most of those supplies end up going home with teachers at the end of the year instead of being carried over, that’s a shame.
The lists are usually inflated knowing that most people won’t bring everything that’s on the list. I guess each parent should be getting school finances & books opened to them publicly so we can see where the money & supplies are going.

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anonymous

the problem with not buying everything on the supply list is that depending on the teacher, sometimes the student is penalized. i remember having my grade reduced simply because i was missing an extra folder or composition notebook.

Reply
jd

If you know for a fact that teachers take home “most” supplies at the end of the year then you must know a dishonest person. Trust me when I say that most teachers are good people and usually spend money out of their own pockets to make up for children who don’t bring in supplies. People don’t become teachers so that they can take some construction paper home come June.

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Queens Teacher

Supplies go home with the teacher? So you honestly think DOE employees hoarding glue sticks, safety scissors, and marble notebooks to take home at the end of the year is a widespread issue? What do you think they are doing with these supplies, summertime arts and crafts?

I’m a teacher. I’m not rich, but I’m paid pretty well. If I need a glue stick and some glitter I can afford it on my own. I’m sorry your friend is a kleptomaniac who is stealing from children and their parents. You should find some new friends.

To be clear, if I have any extra supplies at the end of the year I bring them home too, along with nearly everything else in my classroom that is useful and does not belong to the DOE (since I move classrooms every year). Then I bring them back in September for my new students.

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Frustrated teacher

I teach in a District 30 high school and we do not give out supply lists. I don’t know of a high school that does. My students need supplies just as much as any elementary school student and they tend to be more expensive (think graphing calculators!) If the city or state would fund schools a little more then I would not have to buy supplies for my 2 elementary aged children AND the 200 that I teach! High schools aren’t even eligible for box tops!

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anonymous

i grew up in sunnyside and i went to p.s 150 from 1st-6th grade. it’s true that at times these supply lists are a bit absurd. most of the time these kids are forced to buy a ton of supplies that at times aren’t used at all. if the community organized some sort of school supply drive, i’d contribute.

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Anonymous visitor

There is something seriously wrong with a city that has a million dollars for a bike path along the river but not enough to buy kleenex for elementary school children. Our politicians should hang their heads in shame.

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Chris

Graduated from PS 150 in 1999…would love to give back if anyone knows of how schools in area may be accepting donations

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Skillman Ave Resident

School is not fun and I want to buy some supplies for my children which will make learning more fun. Problem is that for most parents it is a race to bottom as they are not sure if supplies they get will be used by their kids or not. So they go to 99cent store and get crap which teachers don’t want to use. As for parents who can’t afford they should be offer help. Maybe there should be an option that district can do school supplies for parents who ask for help – some kind of form you need to fill out and attach your tax return as prove that you can’t afford to buy school supplies for your child.

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