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Many teachers buy supplies for students

A poll shows nearly half spend more than $500 a year. A district spokesman says it shows they care.

Published May 22, 2006

  Read other Times education polls stories

Regardless of how much money a teacher makes, one thing is clear: Many educators spend a chunk of their checks on classroom supplies.

A St. Petersburg Times poll of Hillsborough and Pinellas County teachers shows that 45 percent spend $100 to $500 a year on items for which they are not reimbursed.

An additional 28 percent say they spend $500 to $1,000. One out of every five teachers reports spending $1,000 or more.

Sometimes, the ones who make the least -- newer teachers - spend the most.

Andrea Runyan, who has been teaching at Clearview Avenue Elementary in St. Petersburg for three years, says she spent at least $700 this year.

"My school gives me $100 to buy things," Runyan says. "But a box of paper costs $50. You don't have much left over for anything else."

Among the things Runyan has purchased for her pupils: pencils, glue, scissors and books. She also has spent money on treats she uses as incentives for good behavior, as well as frogs, fish and gerbils.

Nicole O'Dell, who is finishing her first year at West Tampa Elementary, says she spent $500. Most of it went toward books she thought would help her special education students learn to read.

"I have to adapt for my children's needs," O'Dell says.

While teachers can ask for reimbursement, many say the process is so cumbersome it's not worth it. Others say the things they need are not considered reimbursable expenses.

Karen Colton, a teacher at Jefferson High in West Tampa, bought a laptop computer several years ago because she didn't have access to a computer at school. She says she routinely buys things for her students because she knows their parents can't afford them.

"I buy a lot of calculators and give them out because the kids don't have them," she says. "If I didn't buy them notebooks, half of them wouldn't have them."

But the Times poll shows that it's not only teachers at high-poverty schools who spend their own money on their classrooms. Janet Sontheimer, a teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary in Oldsmar, who describes her school as "middle to upper class," says she spends $1,500 a year. Joyce Svabek from East Lake High, another relatively affluent school, says she spends at least $3,000.

The poll shows that few teachers - only 4 percent in Pinellas and 2 percent in Hillsborough - don't spend money on classroom materials. Only 3 percent spent less than $100.

"I think that's indicative of how good they are," says Pinellas district spokesman Ron Stone. "They're very nurturing people. If they think their children need something and if they think it's important enough, they'll buy it themselves."

[Last modified May 22, 2006, 05:30:53]

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