For weeks — or possibly months — teachers near and far have been gathering school supplies, filling their classrooms with books, pads of paper, markers, crayons and other items.
It’s an annual tradition and always the same challenge. Whether a teacher is decorating their classroom to look like J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts or keeping it simple, school supplies can cost a lot.
Teachers in Williamsburg-James City City County Public Schools receive between $50 and $150 annually for school supplies, district spokeswoman Eileen Cox said. The amount may change at the discretion of the principal, depending on specific classroom needs.
So with salaries averaging $41,000 in WJCC Schools, what other options do teachers have to stock their classrooms? Some teachers apply for grants. Some stick to yard sales and take hand-me-downs from retiring teachers.
But one popular method — online fundraisers — are not authorized by WJCC officials.
Online fundraisers are a common way for teachers to raise funds for supplies. In York County, there were over 20 active fundraisers listed on DonorsChoose.com as of Aug. 31, several which were created by the same teachers. In Williamsburg, there were seven.
Sometimes teachers spend $300 to $400 annually — or more — out of their own pockets, Williamsburg/James City Education Association President Kim Hundley told WyDaily in January.
The WJCC school division does not have a policy specifically addressing online fundraisers, as they are “relatively new,” Cox said.
WJCC Schools Chief Financial Officer Monique Barnes said the division “does not authorize online solicitations” because they conflict with certain parts of current school board policy.
As it stands, all fundraisers of any type must be approved by the school’s principal. Further, all funds must go directly to the school.
“As representatives of the division, it would not be appropriate for teachers to solicit funds in this manner,” Barnes said.
Online fundraisers also leave room for people to impersonate teachers and solicit funds under a school’s name, Cox said. Some fundraising websites also take administrative fees off the top of donations, which also does not correlate with the school division’s current fundraising policy.
“Online fundraising presents a concern about who is representing themselves as a member of the WJCC Schools family,” Cox said. “While we hope that no one would use a false connection to WJCC to receive funds from our caring community, it could happen.”
When asked if teachers face repercussions for online fundraisers, Cox said school administrators will explain to teachers why that type of activity is discouraged. Administrators will also remind teachers that fundraisers need to be approved in advance, and funds must go directly to the school and not an individual.
The School Board may eventually be tasked with updating fundraising policies to address online fundraisers. Cox said the division is researching the online fundraiser policies of other schools and nonprofit organizations.
The York County School Division has developed a policy for soliciting funds via crowdfunding, and it allows online fundraisers with the approval of an administrator, division spokeswoman Katherine Goff said.
The employee will submit a proposal for the project, then agree to use all donated materials and funds as stated in the proposal.
The York County School Board policy says employees should first seek funding through the school budget, Education Foundation or Parent-Teacher Association, Goff said.
Similar to WJCC Schools’ fundraising policy, all funds or supplies must also go directly to the school division.
Besides a supply budget, Cox said schools will sometimes purchase and distribute supplies in bulk.
“At the elementary level, teachers receive approximately $150 dollars to be spent on instructional and classroom materials throughout the year,” Cox said. “Middle school teachers receive $50-$100. At the high school level, money is most often distributed by content or curricular area to provide materials.”
Hundley, who is the current president of the Williamsburg/James City Education Association and also a teacher at Stonehouse Elementary School, recommends going through sanctioned methods, such as the WJCC Foundation or local PTA.
“It’s hard to vet who’s who online,” Hundley said.
Hundley has applied for and received two separate $800 grants from the WJCC Foundation, she said.
The foundation is a School Board-sanctioned entity that uses donations to fund grants for innovative projects in the school division.
Since the first round of grants in January 2016, the foundation has given out about $115,000 to WJCC teachers through 81 grants, foundation president Clarence Wilson said.
About 135 teachers have received those grants.
Each grant can be up to $2,000. The grants don’t fund basic school supplies but go toward next-level projects, Wilson said.
Hundley said the grants are not difficult to receive. Wilson said about 50 percent of applicants receive the grants they apply for each year.
“Our goal is to really encourage innovation in the classroom,” Wilson said. “If the teachers come out with really credible content, we really want to put money into the system.”
Sarah Fearing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.