Spending on supplies

Marshalltown’s back-to-school shopping costs estimated at $20-$50 per student

Families could be seen moving in and out of school supply sections of stores like Wal Mart in Marshalltown Thursday with the first day of school only a few weeks away. Juanita Valdez was one parent collecting items and looking for sales, and she was joined by her fourth grade twins Maricarmen and José.

Parents in the Marshalltown school district are bustling around several area stores, searching for school supplies to outfit their children for the coming academic year.

But how much do new school supplies cost families? The T-R looked at supplies on sale in Marshalltown on Aug. 10 to get an idea of the numbers. The search was conducted based on lists of recommended school supplies provided by the district. The combined state and county sales tax amount has been included in the cost estimates shown in the graphic to the right.

Keep in mind that these findings are rough estimates of the per-student supply costs based on prices of items, some of which were marked down in price, that day. In no way are the figures fixed.

Based on the findings, parents in the Marshalltown district could spend anywhere from $20-$50 on school supplies, assuming they buy all of the recommended items by grade level. Factors like sales and items recycled from previous school years can cut costs.

Additionally, families may also need to pick up new clothes and shoes for growing children, as well as backpacks, sports equipment and other items for curricular and extracurricular activities.

Different grade levels called for different school supplies. For instance, the first grade list included composition notebooks, which the kindergarten list did not. The second- and third grade lists included highlighters, while the fourth grade section did not, and so on.

Boxes of facial tissues were included on all supply lists. Meanwhile, items like dry-erase markers, re-sealable zipper bags and notebooks appeared on the majority of lists.

The district’s lists include recommended item counts, like 12 No. 2 pencils or a box of 24 crayons, but it was sometimes difficult to find products in those exact amounts. Trying to find 36 count pencils was one example, with numbers like 30- and 48 count more easily found.

Additionally, the Lenihan list had a separate section for “optional” items. That building’s regular list also included several items to be shared collectively among students in the classroom.

A district perspective

District Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson said great care is taken in the creation of the recommended school supplies lists.

“We do really try to be cognizant of the impact of that and keep the costs as low as possible,” she said. “These are suggested school supplies, meaning if a student comes to the first day of school without them, they still get to come to school.”

She said information on school supplies is shared with families during preschool and kindergarten registration, giving parents several months time to plan for supply costs. This also happened in June when students entering first grade and above were registered.

Stevenson said the recommended supply lists are developed through meetings among several staff and faculty members.

“This is one of the things we talk about; what do we still need? What do we not need?” she said. “Then the principals take it back to their buildings to discuss with their teachers.”

Some families may struggle to buy every recommended item on the list, but their children should still attend class, she said.

“We highly encourage every family to get what’s on the list, but if anyone is in a state of worry … whatever the family situation might be, by all means, send your child to school,” Stevenson said. “We’ll figure it out, there’s absolutely no reason why these costs should be prohibitive for students attending their first day of school, and days after.”

The cost of school supplies is only part of what families consider prior to a new school year.

“As a parent myself, this [school supply list] has to be factored into things like equipment for sports, or new shoes,” Stevenson said. “This is just a small portion of what a family or a parent would have to take into consideration.”

She said reusing some functional items, like pencil boxes, binders, scissors and calculators can help reduce costs.

For low-income families, there are some area programs that aim to lessen the burden of outfitting children for school. The House of Compassion’s school supply drive, for instance, provides list items and backpacks to hundreds of area children prior to the school year start.

Stevenson said increasing use of digital platforms, like chromebooks, seem like they would reduce the footprint of physical supplies needed by students. However, she said some supplies are likely be needed year to year.

“There’s always going to be a need for students to have things to organize their materials, whether it’s binders or folders, and utensils to write with,” she said.

For full school supply lists, visit https://marshalltown.k12.ia.us


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com