Spending freeze causes scramble to meet needs

A spending freeze at Shenandoah County Public Schools has teachers looking for other ways to find funds for classroom supplies this year.

The freeze is due to an anticipated reduction in funding from the state as a result of a drop in student enrollment.

Schools Superintendent Jeremy Raley said funds for classroom materials and supplies are frozen as well as funds for school transportation for non-competitive events and field trips. The division is still funding transportation for co-curricular activities, such as FFA, FCCLA, band and orchestra competitions, in addition to athletics.

“We continue to work with our staff to do our best to meet the instructional needs of our schools while funds have been frozen,” Raley said. “Teachers are encouraged to share their needs with their principal so that they can work together and find solutions to collaboratively resolve their identified needs.”

Raley said a decision on not funding non-competitive events and field trips is being re-evaluated.

“Changes may be made and will be announced later this week,” he said.

“The cost of equipment, uniforms, consumable supplies and any other needs are being paid by the schools, clubs, and organizations themselves. These funds come from booster clubs, admission to events, concessions, fundraisers, and community donations,” he added.

Kelly Newcomer, a seventh grade science teacher at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School and chair of the Shenandoah County Education Association, said that the spending freeze “limits what I can do.”

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Newcomer added, “We’ve had to become fundraisers.”

Newcomer said teachers are re-purposing what they already have to fit the needs of what they want to do for their students.

“It boils down to what’s best for the students,” she said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Robin Shrum said teachers receive between $150 and $300 at the beginning of the year to buy supplies for their classrooms.

“The amount they receive is dependent upon whether they are a new teacher creating their first classroom, or a non-homeroom teacher who may need fewer supplies,” Shrum said.

“In a typical year, teachers are always welcome to make proposals for additional funding,” she added.

Many teachers have chosen to use crowdfunding sites, such as donorschoose.org to raise funds for their classrooms.

“The majority of teachers who use donorschoose.org do so to provide funding for special projects and extra technology for their classroom,” Shrum said.

She noted that the PTO raises money throughout the year for additional financial support.

Fundraisers are also used to “raise money for our STEM initiative, large projects like the playground, and bringing programs to our school,” Shrum said.

J. Daniel Walsh, president of a group called Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools and the husband of School Board candidate Cyndy Walsh, said Wednesday that the group’s board members wrote an open letter to Shenandoah County teachers this week about the freeze.

“We are dismayed to hear stories of teachers spending their own money to buy classroom supplies,” the letter to teachers states. “As an organization, we encourage those teachers who are in need of basic supplies and instructional materials to please reach out to parents. We have made a concerted effort to inform parents who are PASS members of the impact of ‘the freeze’ on classroom instruction, and we have urged them to please respond to teacher requests to help procure supplies for the classroom. We believe you will find parents receptive to requests for help.”

The letter also touched on the local upcoming November elections, and possible morale issues among teachers and school employees as a result of the freeze. It also noted that this year’s school budget had already been reduced by the Board of Supervisors and that the division now may be facing a loss of around $750,000 in state funding due to the drop in enrollment.

“If we have our way, the upcoming elections will be, in large part, a referendum on local investment in education,” the letter states. We cannot guarantee a favorable outcome, but we can guarantee a prodigious effort. We choose to proceed from a position of faith that, once they are properly informed, parents and others in the community will stand up for our children’s future.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com