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Medford School District to cover cost of all elementary school supplies

Other districts, community organizations gear up on supply front, as well
Shawn Rosas, Title I specialist at Wilson Elementary School, organizes school supplies Tuesday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Title I Specialist Shawn Rosas organizes school supplies Tuesday at Wilson Elementary School. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Recognizing the high cost of goods in today’s economy, Medford School District says it will pay for all school supplies for its elementary school families.

The announcement came early this month, a few weeks ahead of the start of the new school year Aug. 29.

“We want to ease some of the costs associated with the rising prices in stores as you send your child back to school. That’s why we are providing school supplies for all elementary school students (and Ruch K-8) this year,” the district said in its statement, posted online. “Those supplies will go straight to the classroom, ready for your child to use on the first day of school.”

Elementary school families, however, are expected to provide their children with a backpack and a water bottle, the district said.

Since the district’s decision does not apply to families of middle and high school students, they are still expected to purchase the necessary supplies for their child. If they cannot, however, the district encourages them to reach out to their school for support, and the district will make arrangements to pay for the supplies.

Natalie Hurd, communications and community engagement director for Medford School District, said the 2022-23 school year marks the first time officials have ever bought supplies in bulk for any of their schools. The effort will cost anywhere between $100,000 to $130,000, paid for through the district’s general fund.

“We wanted to start small and simple,” she said. “The high school lists tend to be a little bit more complex, given the nature of what they’re doing. At the elementary level, the lists are more generic.”

Elementary school office managers will start ordering supplies from the district this week, when they return from summer break.

As far back as 2017, the district set aside money in case some individual families made requests for school supply relief. But these funds weren't well known publicly, according to Hurd.

“It’s difficult to come in and have a conversation and say, ‘I can’t afford supplies for my student.’ That’s not a great situation to put our families in,” she said. “This summer, with inflation and costs of goods going up, we thought, ‘Let’s try some things differently. We already have funds set aside; let’s just use them as a district and buy in bulk.’”

When the district posted the school supply announcement on its Facebook page, many parents praised officials.

“I love this — so much stress about finding certain supplies, gone! Thank you!,” wrote district parent Aimee Berkinshaw.

Other parents, however, were miffed.

“There was a list online of stuff we had to buy, so (we) already did the shopping. I wish I knew this sooner,” district parent Davina Wintersteen wrote.

Wilson Elementary is ahead of the curve when it comes to purchasing supplies. Officials there met in May and decided to use leftover Title I funds to bulk up those items. They include: pens, loose-leaf paper, sticky notes, rulers, scissors, glue sticks and white-board markers.

“We feel very fortunate that we are able to do this for our families, and we’re excited that it will be equitable across all grade levels,” Wilson Principal Jean Bendele said. “We’re just doing everything we can to make sure we ease that burden for families.”

Talent Middle School has also offered to pay school supply costs for its families, should they need the assistance, according to a handout provided by Phoenix-Talent School District.

“Some families enjoy the activity of buying school supplies with their students, and for some families it creates a tremendous amount of anxiety,” wrote Brent Barry, superintendent of the district, in an email to the newspaper. “This is a way to provide options for any situation. Hope this helps.”

Central Point School District 6 has partnerships with local entities to help pay for the cost of school supplies. Central Point Rotary provides them each year for every new kindergarten student, and Crater Foundation provides District 6 schools with financial assistance for families, should they need school supplies and other necessities.

“When it comes to school supplies, no student goes without the necessary supplies for class,” Central Point schools Superintendent Walt Davenport wrote in an email.

It’s not just school districts that are focused on getting supplies; so are community entities.

In a two-story studio at 31 W. Sixth St., in Medford, the up-and-coming nonprofit Rockafairy, started by a local bassist named Shane Ross, offers community members the chance to play musical instruments and record using a console. Ross believes Rockafairy’s mission is intertwined with schools, and that is why he wants Rockafairy to serve as a drop-off location for a school supply drive over the next month.

“Every supply that comes in, we’re going to celebrate,” Ross said. “Fact is, anything we can give to someone is going to have an impact.”

He initially wanted to start by giving out donated book bags, but now his first priority is obtaining plenty of pencils, pens and notebooks.

“Imagine being in a classroom, and you don’t have a notebook. For the moment, it seems fine,” Ross said. “If you give that same kid a notebook and a pencil … they can take note of it. They might review it later on, and they will form a version of themselves holding that knowledge. Whereas, if they don’t have those supplies, that opportunity is missed.”

The local conversation over school supplies comes at a time when the National Retail Federation recently reported the state of the current economy is not necessarily stopping families from spending what they need to on school supplies — in fact, it tops pre-pandemic spending levels.

The organization’s data shows that individual families are expected to spend an average of $864 on school supplies, amounting to $36.9 billion nationwide — much higher than the $697 per household and $26.2 billion overall in 2019.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.