published Monday, August 19th, 2013

Annual Stuff the Bus event seeks to to help educators who spend about $500 for supplies

Ryan Fugate works to stack donations from Publix inside a school bus during the Stuff the Bus event on Sunday at the Chattanooga Market at the First Tennessee Pavilion. The event was part of the fifth annual Live United Day. Stuff the Bus was sponsored by United Way of Greater Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Market.
Ryan Fugate works to stack donations from Publix inside a school bus during the Stuff the Bus event on Sunday at the Chattanooga Market at the First Tennessee Pavilion. The event was part of the fifth annual Live United Day. Stuff the Bus was sponsored by United Way of Greater Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Market.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

At a glance

Sunday's donation goal: $20,000 in supplies

Sunday donations: $26,000 in supplies

2012 donation totals: $42,000 in supplies

2013 donation goal: $50,000

No. 1 item requested by teachers: Wooden pencils (no plastic coating)

Source: United Way of Greater Chattanooga

Your taxes just don't cover the costs to educate Hamilton County public school students, Hamilton County PTA spokeswoman Scottie Summerlin said Sunday.

And missing out on a potential $270,000 increase in funding because property taxes didn't go up this year doesn't help, she said.

It means teachers likely will keep dipping into their own pockets to put supplies in their classrooms.

But even that is drying up, said Kelley Nave, director of public relations for United Way of Greater Chattanooga.

"Teachers are so tapped out, they're not buying stuff anymore," she said Sunday outside the Chattanooga Market, where this year's Stuff the Bus campaign was going strong.

Summerlin and Nave said that in recent years, the average amount Hamilton County teachers spend for classroom supplies has dropped from $1,200 a few years ago to $1,000 last year. The national average is $500.

Nationwide, a study from the National School Supply and Equipment Association stated that teachers in public schools spent around $1.6 billion of their own money on supplies last school year.

In Tennessee, each public school teacher is given a $100 yearly stipend for supplies.

But Summerlin said that isn't enough. Even with county money, it isn't enough.

United Way of Greater Chattanooga quotes statistics on the county schools website that label 55 percent of Hamilton County public school students "economically disadvantaged."

That means their families probably can't afford school supplies, Summerlin said.

"Am I going to buy bread and milk and pay rent this month, or am I going to buy school supplies?" is the question many parents face, Summerlin said.

"The bread and milk are going to win out every time."

All Stuff the Bus donations go to the Hamilton County PTA Teacher Supply Depot on Roanoke Avenue, where Hamilton County public school teachers and PTA members can "shop" from a warehouse of supplies.

But Nave said donors shouldn't confuse where their gifts are going. Ultimately, all supplies end up in the classroom, and "teachers usually end up giving their supplies to students."

She said United Way partnered with Hamilton County PTA because it was a win for both sides. United Way needed a warehouse and distribution center, while teachers needed a cache of supplies to fall back on.

And school supplies, Nave said, are more than just pencils and paper. Some children are asked to bring paper plates, towels, batteries, even their own headphones.

"It's a more holistic issue," she said. "Going to school and playing are the jobs of children. Like any job, you have to have tools to do the job well."

Hamilton County Stuff the Bus continues until Oct. 31. More information is availabe at www.uwchatt.org.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at 423-757-6731 or agreen@timesfreepress.com.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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