Like swallows to Capistrano, students and educators have flocked
back to area schools to start anew the educational cycle for
2009-10. Preceding the annual return to the hallowed halls is the
parents’ annual trek to area stores and malls to meet the demands
of the back-to-school supplies necessary to keep the classrooms
Not to sound like the proverbial old coot, but “when I was a
kid,” we seldom had to bring more than a notebook of lined paper
and a sunny disposition to start a new school year. I remember my
teacher even handing me a shiny and unsharpened bright yellow No. 2
on the first day. But tightening budgets and burgeoning classrooms
have conspired to create the system we have today, wherein parents
must supply the class with many of the necessities that schools
routinely supplied in the past.
Today’s student is lacking if she doesn’t bring a box of
tissues, crayons, erasers, markers, notebooks, reams of paper,
tape, rulers, glue sticks, highlighters, Ziploc bags, hand
sanitizers, scissors, calculators, pocket dictionaries and enough
pencils to build a bridge that would put the Tacoma Narrows to
What got me to thinking was the demand for reams of paper. I got
to wondering just how big the stack of paper would be if you
totaled all the students in all the classrooms in all the schools
in the Peninsula School District who were asked to bring a ream of
paper to start the year. This rather simple query turned into a
laborious task of Sisyphian proportions as I took to amassing the
school supply lists of the 15 schools in the PSD realm.
The results of my query resulted in four rather cumbersome
charts, which can be accessed as PDFs labeled in the following:
psd-09-supplies-per-student (SPS): Shows the supplies
needed by each student in each grade, with a total dollar amount
per student factored in with the pricing guide.
school Supplies by Grade/School (SGS): Shows totals of
each item requested for each grade, based on projected enrollment
numbers for 2009-10 posted on the PSD Web site.
psd-09-total-supplies-by-school (TSS): Shows total
number of each item requested by each school, with a total for all
of the districts eight elementary and four middle schools.
psd-09-supplies-prices (SP): Shows estimated cost of
each item, total requested for the school district and the cost to
parents based on these amounts.
As a matter of full disclosure, please note there are a number
of discrepancies that make this list necessarily incomplete. For
one, the high schools are not represented as class supply lists are
not posted online. The per-student total is not completely accurate
as a number of the supplies can be purchased at different stores
for different prices — sometimes for big discounts at some stores.
Also, the per-student total can be skewed by unlisted items, i.e.
middle school students are required to provide gym clothes and
some, locks for a locker, and none of this is incorporated into the
Likewise, many parents refuse to purchase the total amount of
some items requested, i.e. a student may be asked to bring 10 glue
sticks, but a parent supplies three or they opt to not send some of
the requested supplies to school at all.
And naturally enough, there is the matter of recycling. Many
parents save items from one school year to the next — such as
watercolor paints, or reusable items like calculators and rulers —
eliminating the need to purchase the item anew each year. The costs
per student shown on SPS assume that a parent is buying every item
on the list as requested for the new school year.
Now I’m no statistical engineer, so my math and logic is in no
way meant to be comprehensive or complete. Rather, this little
project led me to pose the bigger question: Given the
distressed economy, could the school district pool the teacher wish
lists, purchase the major accoutrement at a discounted bulk rate
and save parents a lump sum of cash?
And like any statistical study, interesting facts and heretofore
unasked questions come up when the data is laid out side by
For example: While most schools require at least one box of
Kleenex per student, kids in Goodman Middle School must have
particularly runny noses as they are expected to supply 2,196 boxes
of tissues for the 549 students — a total of four boxes per
student. And kids at Artondale and Purdy elementary schools plan to
glue a lot of paper, with both schools expecting more than 3,500
glue sticks, while Evergreen Elementary and Goodman Middle School
students will glue nary a dozen pieces of paper together with
Evergreen asking for little more than two glue sticks per student
and Goodman less than one per student.
And my original question on reams of paper? Students at Harbor
Ridge and Voyager didn’t need to weigh their backpacks down on
opening day as they were not asked for any reams, while Kopachuck
tipped the other end of the scale, requesting 1,112 reams from the
656 students. Districtwide, a whopping 4,355 reams of paper were
expected to be collected. With a ream of 20 lb. bond measuring 2
inches deep, that’s a stack of reams topping out at just over 725
feet high. If you were to stack the reams 10 feet high, you would
need a closet measuring at least 6.5 feet by 7.5 feet and 10 feet
Anyone who has manipulated statistics knows you can create a
number or set of numbers to represent just about anything you want.
Looking at the numbers, a parent could wonder why a fifth grader at
Artondale requires more than $80 in supplies while his counterpart
at Minter Creek can meet her needs with less than $20. And do
Artondale third-grade and Harbor Heights fourth-grade teachers
really expect to go through 60 pencils per student in one school
year? (That’s a new pencil for every three school days.)
But that’s not the point here. I’ll leave that kind of number
crunching to those of you who feel compelled to look into this
further. My point is to the school district. Couldn’t the district,
with its buying power, purchase the non-reusable items on the lists
each year — say like the 23,432 glue sticks (parent price of
3 for .99 cents, costs parents $7,732.56), 7,714 Kleenex boxes (.99
each for a total of $7,636.86), and 4,355 reams of paper ($2.99 per
The district could recoup the funds by then charging the parents
what it paid for each item, so the parents are still footing the
supplies bill, but getting the district’s buying clout.
It just seems to me a good starting off point to talk about the
district looking to be innovative in ways to help parents meet the
needs of the classroom by using its buying power to reduce the
overall costs of going back to school. Anyone agree?