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Tax-free holiday to ease school shopping costs

By Josette Keelor

It's back-to-school time, and in Virginia that means the return of a three-day sales tax holiday. Beginning today, many clothing items, shoes and school and office supplies will be free of sales tax. In combination with back to school sales, it's a good time to save on items for the new school year.

Area stores like Walmart have copies of school supply lists available for shoppers, but parents can also print off lists from schools' websites. At Family Dollar in Strasburg, a circular advertises folders for 10 cents, one-subject notebooks for 15 cents and 24-count boxes of crayons for 50 cents during its back-to-school super sale.

Walmart's website groups school supplies by grade level, offering search options by school. Online at http://www.walmart.com, Roaring Spring marble composition books are priced at $1, cheaper than Mead brand, and a four-pack of Mead spiral bound wide rule one-subject notebooks is $3.77.

Back to school time is also a time to consider those in need, said Shenandoah Sheriff's Deputy Rebecca Mauck, head of the sixth annual "Stuff the Bus" event in Woodstock, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Despite discounts, lists of school items can be hefty and include optional items like sheet protectors and card stock or wish lists of classroom items like index cards, white board erasers or paper plates. Schools remind that some items like paper and pencils will need to be replenished as the year goes on.

"The need is greater it seems this year," said Mauck, who plans to aid 519 children in Shenandoah County this month through this weekend's event at the Walmart in Woodstock.

In Winchester, the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley and Shenandoah County Department of Social Services will team for the first "Fill the Bus" collection at the Walmart on South Pleasant Valley Road from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Both events will accept donations of money, supplies and volunteers to help sort items.
Volunteers in Woodstock plan to fill backpacks with items from school supply lists to donate to area children on Aug. 15.

In Warren County, a collection box for school supplies through Operation Homefront's Back-to-School Brigade will be at Dollar Tree at 130 Crooked Run Road.

Most area school lists do not specify backpacks for every grade level, but Mauck said, "At the end of the day, we find that book bags are the number one item that we need the most."

Though some area schools recommend parents wait for the school year before buying classroom-specific items, lists provided by elementary and middle schools agree on the basics.

Middle schools in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick and Clarke counties list pencils, highlighters, colored pencils, loose-leaf paper and three-ring binders as necessary items for every grade level, but they differ on items like glue sticks, dividers and pencil pouches.

At the elementary school level, class lists vary even more.

At A.S. Rhodes Elementary School in Front Royal, first, second and fifth graders will need 1-inch binders, while at Middletown Elementary School, binders for third graders need to be 1 ½ inches without zippers. Fourth graders at Middletown will not need binders, but fifth graders need the zippered kind.

Antibacterial sanitizer, tissues and headphones appear frequently on elementary school lists, and many schools will ask children to bring plastic sandwich bags and quart- or gallon-sized zipper bags for organizing supplies.

In Clarke County, school lists include classroom-specific items like sunscreen to use in P.E. class and a USB flash drive.

But E. Wilson Morrison Elementary in Front Royal reminds that even headphones can be found at Dollar Tree or Big Lots, and a list from Ressie Jeffries Elementary in Front Royal points out, "supplies are suggestions and are not mandatory."

Warren County Public Schools have a fund for helping families that can't afford school supplies, said Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent of instruction.

"Countywide, our free and reduced lunch [participation] is almost 42 percent," he said. He expects about that same percentage of students could use help buying school supplies each year.

Still, household supplies creep onto area school supply lists every year.

"There really isn't a budget that kind of covers those kinds of things ... like tissues and things like that, so schools are left to being creative," Drescher said.

During the sales tax holiday, most school and office supplies that cost $20 or less and clothing items and shoes marked at $100 or less will be exempt from Virginia's 5.3 percent state and local sales tax, according to a news release from the Virginia School Boards Association.

A full list of tax-free items is available at the Virginia Department of Taxation's website, http://www.tax.virginia.gov. There is no requirement that the purchases be made for school purposes.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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