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Program Gets a Gold Star for Helping Schools

Tulare County teachers are grateful for a gift of classroom supplies. The project will continue to aid the strapped district.

March 14, 2004|Cynthia Daniels | Times Staff Writer

TULARE, Calif. — Every day, Rose Machado uses her ink pads to stamp stars, "great" and "awesome" on the homework of her 20 second-graders. And although the school year is two-thirds over, Machado hasn't run out of ink yet.

She picked up ink pads, folders, stencils, glue sticks and index cards -- and saved herself about $1,000 -- when she attended a school supplies giveaway last fall. The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Love in the Name of Christ of Tulare County and the Tulare County Office of Education.

"It was well worth my Saturday afternoon," Machado said. "In my eight years of teaching, I was never offered the opportunity to fill up carts and wagons with free supplies."

The daylong event was planned in response to state budget cuts that left Tulare County school districts with $5.5 million less in per-pupil funding this year.

But little did organizers know that their one-time experiment -- giving free school supplies to teachers -- would become an ongoing project.

Last week, organizers completed their plans to transform the one-time giveaway into the yearlong Love INC Kids-in-Need School Program.

In Tulare County, where 24% of the population is below the poverty line and the unemployment rate of 17.6% is one of the state's highest, the program is welcome.

"Normally, in a good year, we could afford to get more things; but because of budget cuts during the last couple of years, we've been trying to save pennies," said Jack Kitaoka, a sixth-grade teacher at Palo Verde Union Elementary School in Tulare. He is delighted every time his students create art projects with paint he received at the giveaway, instead of the markers they once used.

With free supplies, Kitaoka said, he can spend his money elsewhere: He plans to buy 21 ice cream sundaes and rewards, from stationery to a football, for students who perform well in class.

Love in the Name of Christ, a network of churches linking volunteers to the disadvantaged, asked its national headquarters for support in seeking new products donated by manufacturers or businesses. The county Office of Education notified teachers, 1,400 of whom descended on the church network's 17,000-square-foot warehouse last September and filled their shopping carts, wheelbarrows and wagons with more than $1 million in school supplies for an estimated 10,000 children.

Under the new program, which will start next month, teachers must register with the Office of Education, attend a one-day orientation and pay a $10 registration fee and a $5-per-month donation fee. The tax-deductible donation will be used for transporting and unloading the school supplies and supporting other ministries of the church network, such as pantries and shelters.

After the requirements are met, teachers can visit the warehouse several time a year to stock up on everything from glue sticks to plaster molds.

The teachers union and education officials estimate that teachers spend between $450 and $600 out of their own pockets for school supplies. Although Kids-in-Need does not prevent teachers from spending their own money, officials hope it will ease some of the financial burden on Tulare County educators and students' families.

"We cannot replace the budget; we can only help," said Robert Shipman, executive director of the church network in Tulare County. "This is about kids who are going to be disadvantaged because of budget cuts and because their teachers can't pay it all out of pocket."

This isn't the first time a community has reached out to help schools. Last June, parents' donations prevented some teacher layoffs and larger classes for third-graders in the Capistrano Unified School District. And parents from San Diego to Sacramento routinely reach into their own pockets to supplement dwindling school funds.

"Our kids in this county -- their parents are figuring out how to buy food and pay the electric bill," said Faye Johnson, an instructional consultant with the Tulare County Office of Education who helped coordinate the program. "Buying school supplies doesn't always come first."

Located between pistachio orchards and across from alfalfa fields, Palo Verde Union Elementary School serves 540 students from preschool to eighth grade. Eighty percent of its students are economically disadvantaged and qualify for free or reduced-price meals. And as a Title 1 School, Palo Verde receives federal money to supplement its curriculum and help its high number of disadvantaged students meet academic standards.

John Manning, superintendent of the one-school district, said his district's budget cuts were less than 1% this school year but teachers were asked to limit spending.

Second-grade teacher Margaret Schulz described the free supplies as a "great help." Schulz said she spends about $100 per year on candy, trinkets and gifts for her students. At the giveaway, she picked up at least $500 in supplies, including 24 binders for her students to store their homework and sticky notes so they can post ideas and questions on a language-arts bulletin board.

Schulz said she probably would not register for the ongoing program because she received so many supplies at the giveaway that she has enough to last into the next school year.

"It was very caring of them to do that for free," Schulz said. "It was awesome, and needed in this area."

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