WDAY: FARGO—Tis’ the season for yellow pencils, pink erasers and glittery-red plastic folders. With the calendar officially flipping to August, it’s time for parents to start thinking about purchasing back-to-school supplies for their children. Except for parents at one Fargo elementary school.
Of the 14 elementary schools in Fargo, Longfellow Elementary School, 20 29th Ave. NE, is the only school that doesn’t have a school supply list for its students.
No spiral notebooks. No colored pencils. No glue sticks. Nothing.
Instead, parents at Longfellow Elementary are asked to supply either kindergarten or first-grade teachers $25 per child to purchase “basic school supplies and miscellaneous art and classroom items,” according to a school handout available on the Fargo Public School’s website.
But is $25 per student enough for teachers to cover an entire school years-worth of supplies for students?
According to Longfellow Elementary Principal Eric Henrickson, it is.
“The majority of parents have liked it (giving teachers $25),” Henrickson said. “I’ve only had one parent that—wasn’t necessarily upset—but they questioned it.”
It’s not just the parents who like the policy. Teachers are also advocates of receiving money from parents versus students supplying their own school supplies, according to Henrickson.
“They (teachers) just wanted to have some consistency with school supplies,” Henrickson said. “Doing it this way provides consistency for everybody.”
Henrickson said the $25 amount for supplies was not picked at random, but rather the result of kindergarten teachers doing their own research and purchasing the necessary supplies themselves.
“Kindergarten teachers went out and did some checking on prices and felt that the $25 amount was about right,” said Henrickson.
Since Fargo kindergarten school supply lists differ from one to the next, we narrowed our list down to 15 key, essential items that were consistent with all other supply lists.
Those items included:
• 2 boxes of Kleenex
• 24-pack of yellow Ticonderoga pencils
• 4 Elmer’s Glue Sticks
• 2 plastic folders
• 1 spiral notebook
• 1 composition book
• 10-pack of Crayola markers
• 8-pack of dry erase markers
• 24-pack of Crayola crayons
• Pencil container
• 3-pack of pink erasers
• 2 highlighters
• 1 pack of Crayola watercolors
Here is what we paid for each item on the list:
• 2 boxes of Kleenex ($2.96)
• 24-pack of yellow Ticonderoga pencils ($4.47)
• 4 Elmer’s Glue Sticks ($2)
• 2 plastic folders ($1.92)
• 1 spiral notebook ($0.25)
• Scissors ($1.47)
• 1 composition book ($1.47)
• Earbuds ($4.88)
• 10-pack of Crayola markers ($0.97)
• 8-pack of dry erase markers ($6.47)
• 24-pack of Crayola crayons ($2.47)
• Pencil container ($0.97)
• 3-pack of pink erasers ($1.46)
• 2 highlighters ($3.97)
• 1 pack of Crayola watercolors ($1.97)
• 7.5% sales tax ($2.68)
After buying all of the items on our supply list at a local big-box store, the cost — including sales tax — totaled $38.41. That’s $13.41 more than the $25 that is supplemented to Longfellow teachers by parents at the beginning of the school year.
However, this experiment comes with plenty of caveats. For example, teachers may not need to purchase all the items on the list because there are leftovers from previous years. Or, they can decide to purchase less-expensive options of the same product.
But for the purposes of this experiment, if a teacher were to go to the same local big-box store without any supplies and purchase every item on this list, they would find themselves with insufficient funds and need to find other resources to help cover the extra costs of supplies.
Which poses the question to teachers: does “consistency” trump added expenses, some of which may potentially be considered out-of-pocket?
According to a May 2018 study released by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of public school teachers overall spent their own out-of-pocket money on classroom supplies during the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, the average amount spent by teachers of elementary grades ($526) was higher than the amount spent by teachers of secondary grades ($430), the study revealed.
Henrickson said that in the case that a teacher would need extra funds for supplies, there are multiple ways the district can assist them.
“I work with our teachers to make sure they’re not short on anything,” Henrickson said. “But in case of emergency, the district will provide funds or a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) will provide funding.”
Longfellow Elementary kindergarten teachers, who collectively are currently not under contract, were not made available for comment for this story.