Educators are willing to pay to enhance learning


In the LeFave household, there’s a budget for electricity, groceries — and Maria LeFave’s ninth-grade classroom at Eastside High School.

LeFave said she spends about $800 of her own money each year equipping her classroom with books and supplies. Her husband, Rick, disagrees.

“Let’s say $1,000, at least,” he said. “I do the budget.”
Teachers across the county head back into the classroom today for pre-planning, bringing many materials they paid for out of their own pockets.

According to a 2010 National School Supply and Equipment Association study, teachers spent $3.1 billion in educational products during the 2009-2010 school year.

During the 2007-2008 school year, the study says, teachers spent on average about $936 on materials for their classrooms.

LeFave said that when she taught in the 1990s, the materials budget per teacher was $250. According to school district budget documents, teachers have a $180 stipend for the upcoming school year.

Without spending her own money, LeFave said she wouldn’t have enough books for her students.

“You’ve got to have reading materials and they have to be interesting,” she said. “(The $180 stipend) doesn’t provide things I want to make education fun.”

Even the 2,000-page copy limit isn’t enough, LeFave said.

She isn’t alone. Lauren Brochu, a Wiles Elementary School third-grade teacher, said she spent at least $200 last week on materials, including whiteboards at Target for each of her students.

“You want so much for the kids, but we have to realize there’s only so much you can buy,” she said.

Brochu also tutors after school and works as a Mary Kay consultant to supplement her paycheck, but some of it goes back into her classroom.

“Dollar Tree is my friend,” she said, laughing.

The district’s Teacher’s Lab helps offset some costs. Teachers can cut out letters for bulletin boards, create buttons and get graphic design help at the center, said manager David Stanley. Teachers can also charge the expenses to their school accounts, but “honestly, a lot of them prefer to pay cash,” Stanley said.

Brochu spent Thursday creating an Olympic-themed bulletin board.

“There’s a lot of pressure with their first year of the FCAT, so I’m saying we’re athletes in training for the championship game,” she said.

Other teachers use DonorsChoose,org, a donation website, to raise money for supplies. Melissa Julien, an exceptional student education pre-kindergarten teacher, hopes to raise more than $500 for a classroom rug. So far, she’s raised nearly $350.

“The budget is nearly nonexistent,” she wrote in her donation plea. “The students ‘make do’ with everything else, but I would love a new carpet to enhance our classroom community and to help my sweet pre-kindergartners learn.”

Clarissa Lawrence teaches at Sweetwater Branch Academy’s elementary school, which is in its second year. For the inaugural year, she spent $500 before the start of school.

“If you really need it, you’ll probably have to get it yourself,” Lawrence said.

She said teachers don’t waste their money filling up an empty classroom.

“My instinct is to think of the child first,” she said. “It’s not frivolous or cute things. It’s things that will benefit student learning.”

Contact Jackie Alexander at or 338-3166.