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$250 stipend a good step, teachers say

Published Oct. 2, 2005

No matter how much money public school districts receive from state lawmakers this week to build new schools, teachers are certain to come out a little richer.

The House and Senate have approved similar plans to give each Florida school teacher a one-time, $250 stipend to buy classroom supplies. It is one of the few items both sides agreed to in a construction funding bill being negotiated Thursday evening.

Lawmakers pushing the stipend, including state Sen. John Grant, D-Tampa, said they wanted to reimburse teachers who for years have bought construction paper, markers and other supplies out of their own pockets.

Other legislators called it a diversion _ and a small one at that _ to placate teachers in a week devoted to solving school crowding.

Tampa Bay area teachers say they will take what they can get.

"That would definitely help. I think every teacher would say that," said Helen Avers, who teaches mentally retarded students at Plumb Elementary in Clearwater.

While most teachers already receive $200 to $250 each year from their school budgets to pay for basics such as pencils and paper, "it never seems to be enough," said Annette Sapp, who teaches algebra at Weightman Middle School in Pasco County.

Some students come to school without notebooks or folders, Sapp said, or they cannot afford to go on a field trip.

Teaching materials that can help Sapp make math exciting for eighth-graders cannot be found in school district warehouses.

Students need tissues to wipe their noses.

School budgets, parents and PTAs cover many of the basics, but those sources dry up. Sapp finds she must pitch in about $100 per year of her money. When Judy Pricher was in the classroom, the yearly totals ran from $1,000 to $2,000.

"And I think that's pretty common for every teacher," said Pricher, who now coordinates services for exceptional students at J.S. Robinson Elementary in Plant City.

Big expenses include copy paper ($30 for a nine-week supply) and storybooks to read aloud, Pricher said. Ink cartridges for computer printers run $50 each and don't last long in a class of 30 students.

Plus, "you do food, celebrations, treats. You have to do things to motivate them, to keep them going and when you have 30 kids, that can add up to a lot," Pricher said.

Before lawmakers tentatively agreed on the stipend, some argued that the money would have greater effect if it paid for more schools to ease crowding across the state. The stipend will cost the state $31.5-million, enough to build three elementary schools.

Avers, the Clearwater teacher, welcomes the extra cash. It will help her buy more hands-on teaching tools, such as plastic blocks and teddy bears, to help students understand math concepts.

But, she said, she does not teach in a crowded classroom, unlike fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Plumb Elementary.

"I think they would welcome (the stipend), but they want another solution, too," Avers said. "If they had a choice, they would probably want more relief as far as another teacher in the building."

Said Sapp, the math teacher: "My argument would be to (let us) keep the money and deal with the overcrowding, too."

_ Staff writers Jim DeBrosse and Kent Fischer contributed to this report.