Milca Ruz, a third grade teacher at Garvanza Elementary School in northeast L.A. probably spends about $4,000 of her own money on school supplies each year.
Ruz, 39, has been a teacher since 1996. These days her worry is printer paper. She is allotted two boxes, or 10,000 sheets, a year. Only a few months into the school year, she's working her way through the second box. With continuing budget cuts, a new reading and language arts curriculum, and not enough books, she uses a lot of paper making copies so students can do grammar exercises.
Well, here's a happy ending for once. Thanks to a unique partnership between the district and the Wasserman Foundation, which launched in November, Ruz and other teachers like her, have received hundreds of dollars to pay for supplies.
To date, teachers have received more than $2 million in donations from parents under this partnership; teachers have used the money to buy school supplies ranging from crayons to digital cameras, said Lydia Ramos, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The foundation donated $4 million for teachers in the form of gift cards ($2 million broken up into $15 cards and sent out to schools) and matching funds (up to $1 million each year for two years). The district sent the cards out to schools in December, and each school decided how best to get them to the district's roughly 600,000 parents, Ramos said.
But a deadline is looming: the $15 gift cards must be redeemed by Feb. 16, or the money remains unspent.
"[The deadline's] around the corner, and every gift card is unique," Ramos said. "So that means if I leave my gift card on the kitchen table, and I keep piling my mail on the kitchen table, and I forget about it, that’s $15 that’s no longer around to help a classroom."
As of today more than 28,000 parent gift cards (or $420,000) have been redeemed to help fund 3,244 projects, Ramos said. That means roughly 572,000 cards remain unspent. Parents donated an additional $800,000 to teachers (an average of $28.50 extra per parent), which was matched by the foundation.
Teachers put projects online along with their goals and a photo of the class. Parents can then go online, type in their card's code and give the class money.
Ruz has received nearly $400 in paper as well as a wireless printer and (so far) six iPads that she uses with her students so that they can do online research for projects such as one coming up on the solar system. The iPads stand in for computers — the class has one roughly eight-year-old computer that is very slow, Ruz said.
Ruz said her students glowed with excitement when they saw her hand out the cards to their parents at parent-teacher conferences. The student body at her school is quite diverse; at least one of her kids is homeless while some others are struggling.
"I have some children, they do not have the money to provide for these kind of projects," Ruz said. "But having those $15 really empowered the parents."
One wrinkle in the plan has been that about 20 percent of LAUSD parents, or roughly 120,000, do not have Internet according to a 2011 parent survey conducted by the district, Ramos said. Officials have worked to give parents online access at schools in the library or parent centers, Ramos said.
"The bottom line is that students will receive the results, students get to receive the gifts," Ramos said. "They get the box, they open it up, it’s maybe new big chalk, maybe a listen and learning educational software, it might be something for the elementary, kindergarten [levels such as] puppets to spell words; at the high school level graphing calculators, digital cameras for journalism classrooms, novels."
Starbucks will also be getting in on the action later this month by giving out $10 gift cards to the general public, which can be used through mid-March for L.A. schools.
The donations are a bright spot for teachers amid the ominous forecast of more budget cuts and possible layoffs.