Of the many books and cards inside Rachel Stange's classroom at Neveln Elementary School, one math activity book costs $11. The activity cards that accompany it cost $16.
"It adds up fast," Stange said.
Over time, teachers build up supplies. Stange, who started teaching second grade at Banfield Elementary School and moved to teach fifth grade at Neveln two years ago, uses a cubbyhole system she built with her father, shares some of books she's paid for by herself and borrowed the electric pencil sharpener that sits underneath the bookcase at the back of her classroom.
Stange and nine other Neveln teachers struck it lucky on Wednesday afternoon, when representatives of the Austin Wal-Mart store came to a staff meeting to hand out 10 $100 gift cards. The store selected Neveln based on its needs, and the 10 teachers were chosen through a drawing. The cards were donated to help offset teachers' out-of-pocket classroom supply costs, said Wal-Mart assistant manager Brad Arett.
Teachers can get reimbursement from Austin Public Schools for classroom expenses, but it's not enough to cover all of the out-of-pocket expenses, Stange said.
Neveln Principal Dewey Schara said the district's supply budget isn't down this year, but many factors force teachers to dip into their own resources to fund classroom activities.
Elementary classrooms are quite visual, so teachers easily can spend $200 to $400 of their own money, Schara said.
The cost of pencils and markers has also gone up. Many teachers use the dollar stores as well as Target and Wal-Mart for supplies the budget doesn't cover. Those can be special markers for boards, date stamps to track a child's writing progress or candies that serve as rewards for jobs well done.
The school district supplies the basics. It gives teachers $75 each, according to Schara.
"And it does go fast," he said.
He said districtwide cutbacks have required teachers to foot more of the cost of classroom supplies themselves. The district is also putting more of its money into technology upgrades and expansion.
Over 63 percent of the students who attend Neveln receive free or reduced lunches, Schara said.
Stange and second-grade teacher Martha Mickelson said teachers commonly dip into their own pocketbooks for classroom expenses. Both of them estimated they spend "hundreds" of dollars each year. Those dollars go toward buying activity books and Learning Center games, they said.
"As classrooms become more specialized and individualized, different students need different materials," said Stange. "You keep adding to your repertoire."