Language arts teacher Nicole Clemens’ classroom greets students with colorful decor, collages of pictures and educational posters. A couch for student leisure sits in the corner, and the stack of extra pens, pencils and highlighters that were once plentiful have dwindled down as students have used them.
While paper, pens and pencils are vital, Clemens bought those supplies — along with the couch and decor — with her own money. She said she doesn’t mind the extra expense and it’s normal for her to use money from her personal budget for class projects. Department chairs purchase materials to supply teachers at the start of the year in a room the studies department calls the LASSO.
“The giant Post-It poster paper — which is stupid expensive, it’s just paper — I buy that,” Clemens said. “[I purchase] all of the weird stuff that makes the classroom not feel like a prison, like the ottomans and the stuff I have on the walls. It isn’t vital to teaching, but it really does make it less awful to be here for a lot of kids.”
To compensate for personal spending, the state provides $250 tax write offs for all educators, principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad said. Clemens said she spends at least that much every year on supplies, as she “always exceeds” that amount.
While the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) business office ensures schools don’t go over budget, departments such as band struggle to get enough money for their needs. Band uses all its $35,000 budget for materials like stands, instruments and music. Sophomore trumpet player Jackson Dampier believes their budget is insufficient.
“Certain instruments are decades old and falling apart and nowhere near close to being replaced since several other instruments need to be replaced as well. That, along with brand new instruments being very expensive, makes the replacement process very long,” Dampier said. “With band being a naturally expensive activity, the small budget that we do get is not enough to sustain the fine arts at RBHS without having to rely on donations and fundraisers.”
The band department’s booster club treasurer, Kim Dampier, said the only two revenue-producing fields are band’s Concert Series book that they get advertising money from, along with “A Sweet Night of Jazz,” which costs $9 for admission. This, along with donations from parents, adds up to $25,000 in additional funds to support the band and marching program.
“Right now the district is forcing boosters to pay for things like uniforms, instruments, instrument repairs, competition entrance fees [and] travel costs to and from competitions. We even have to pay for the extra instructors,” Dampier said. “[We are using] bare bones costs to run the program — we have no frills or extras. If it weren’t for boosters, our marching program wouldn’t exist.”
Band director Steve Mathews said the fine arts coordinator James Maltin decides band’s department budget. Mathews said the department uses its budget money for expenses involved in transportation to and from competitions, sheet music and any other supplies they may need.
“Anybody will always ask for more [money], but we have a very strong booster group which is independent and they do a lot of fundraising and help to supplement our needs,” Mathews said. “[Our budget is] adequate. It could always be a little more, but I’m lucky to have boosters that supplement what we [can’t pay for].”
Mathews said band also receives funds from donations as well as his Extracurricular Activities Account (ECA).
Dr. Rukstad said she deals with the building instruction and principal’s budget and that it’s up to specific departments to cover their costs. The money RBHS utilizes comes from property tax money, state allocations and federal money from CPS, which Dr. Rukstad filters into budgets that need it most.
“As a school, I can request that budget allocations are done in a certain way. I have the control of, ‘If we’re going to have X number of dollars,’ I can say which accounts they should be in, but they can always be changed within the year,” Dr. Rukstad said. “It’s our job to figure out how to spend it wisely, but we also have to spend it within the boundary of the law because it is public money.”
So far, Dr. Rukstad said she is content with this year’s budget but has allocated more funds toward the principal’s budget than last year. Dr. Rukstad said she needed this additional money to offer teachers breakfast every faculty meeting and the new commodity of free coffee for faculty.
“[The district] wants to have everything either spent down or planned to spend down — when I say ‘plan’ that means we have a purchase order on the system — by the end of April,” Rukstad said. “I’m more aware in March [with] how I want to think about things differently as we start to close out the year.”
While giving more money to the principal’s budget has proven beneficial to faculty, Clemens doesn’t believe the language arts department should do anything different; rather, she said spending her own money on materials is unavoidable.
“I think the way the department does it is great … It’s a better community if I can say, ‘Oh, just keep that pencil, no big deal’ to that kid who really can’t remember to bring his pencil ever or whose mom wasn’t able to go school shopping,” Clemens said. “So, yeah, it’s kind of annoying, but I personally don’t feel like it’s a make-or-break part of what I do.”