Education

Teacher back-to-school supplies add up for classes like music

Choral/Guitar Ensemble Director Desiree Fowler in her office at Ramon C. Cortines High School of Visual & Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles.
Choral/Guitar Ensemble Director Desiree Fowler in her office at Ramon C. Cortines High School of Visual & Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

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As students head back to school, backpacks and binders aren’t the only items that need purchasing. Teachers are also spending money on class supplies and, for some who teach the arts, it's expensive.

Music teacher Desiree Fowler spent about $500 to get ready for today, the first day of the new school year for the Los Angeles Unified School District

"Instead of having text books like a math teacher would, we have to order our own method books, our own sight reading books," said Fowler, who teaches classical guitar and choir to high schoolers at Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles.

"In terms of sheet music, I don’t use the same things every year. I’m constantly finding new music," she said. 

As Fowler thumbed through her receipts, she ran across one from OfficeMax, where she spent $251. Another $75 went to Guitar Center. She purchased guitar strings, picks, and other music gear for her students, as well as basics like Kleenex and dry erase board markers.

Fowler said the district does pay for some supplies. She spends her own money in part to get teaching equipment quickly and to avoid the delays that come with official paperwork. 

"I don’t like spending time or energy talking about how we don’t have things. I’d much rather just supply it for the kids," she said. 

Average back-to-school costs for teachers can range between $100 and $1,000 in personal spending, according to Colleen Schwab, secondary vice president for UTLA, the Los Angeles teachers' union.

Suzanne Spurgeon, the union's director of communications, said Los Angeles Unified does not have policies in place to reimburse teachers for what they spend out of their own pockets for supplies. 

The amounts that art and music teachers spend vary and some contacted for this story said their expenses were fully covered by parent and music booster groups. But without that help, teaching the arts can be especially expensive since the classes often require specialized items like rosin for string bows and glazes for ceramics projects. 

Teachers have been turning to online resources to help them defray their costs, including sites like AdoptAClass.org and DonorsChoose.org, which allows the public to help teachers pay for items like “pencils for poetry and microscopes for mitochondria,” according to its website. 

Sharing supplies can also help teachers save on costs, Edutopia suggests, as can joining Yahoo Groups or Google Groups and posting classroom needs.