Upper West Side public schools are adding items like paper towels and copy paper to their students' mandatory school supply lists
Toilet paper, check. Liquid hand soap, check. Baby wipes, check. This may sound like a typical grocery list for household essentials, but for many Upper West Side parents, it was part of their child's school supply list this year - along with the typical binders, pencils and notebooks. One Upper West Side parent said that she spent $300 this year on her two daughters in 4th and 5th grade.
Community representatives like Council Woman Gale Brewer and her presumed successor to represent District 6 Helen Rosenthal say that this issue has been going on for awhile now all over the city. But enough is enough, said Rosenthal. P.S. 163 on West 97th Street's school supply list for 5th graders asks for copy paper, liquid hand soap and Band-aids. At P.S. 84, the 4th grade list included baby wipes and paper towels, along with other "normal" school supplies.
The core of the problem comes down to budgetary concerns. For instance, at these very same schools, P.S. 84's budget this year was $2,160,000, whereas just six years ago, the school's budget was over $4 million. At P.S, 163, this year's budget was $3,236,000, and six years ago in 2007, the budget just shy of $6 million.
"Parents are distressed that schools are not provided with things like bathroom supplies," said Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. "It usually falls to teachers to lay out the money if parents can't afford it. There must be a way that the DOE can better proportion their money."
Brewer also said that in the longterm, a new schools chancellor and re-allocation of funds throughout the city will be the solution. But for now, parents have to get creative. Anne Capelle, who has a 4th and 5th grader at P.S. 84, said that this is unfortunately pretty typical for her children's' school in recent years. After shelling out $300 this year for supplies, she said that she suggested that the PTA pool their money and get supplies directly from a supplier, so it would be cheaper, but it didn't take off in time this year.
"It's not just us, I know money is an issue in every school, that's why I'm on the PTA," said Capelle.
Patty Frisbie, who has a 2nd and 5th grader at P.S. 163, had a slightly more positive outlook on the tight budget.
"If the parents can pick up some expenses, then the school can use more money to pay for teachers," said Frisbie.
The PTA at P.S. 163 has been very thrifty, having frequent fundraisers for school supplies and other school necessities. Through one fundraiser, she said, you could put up $78, and get a "5th grade package" of school supplies needed without going out to the stores. This year, she has noted that white copy paper has been added to the list, even though it was never there before, because the school still sends letters home instead of emails since many parents don't have email in their school.
"Do we grumble about having to pay for paper towels? Yes. But if the choice is to have a class of 32 or 22, I'll front the cost for whatever you need."