DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK, teachers around the country spend hundreds of dollars every year out of their pockets - pencils, folders, all sorts of school supplies. But for art teachers, that bill can run even higher. Mary Plummer of member station KPCC in Los Angeles did a little shopping to find out just how much teachers are spending.
MARY PLUMMER, BYLINE: Sheree Woods is sitting in the parking lot of a mini mall in a suburb outside of LA. She's here for a huge sale. She's a high school art teacher at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies. Every year, she digs deep into her own money.
SHEREE WOODS: I would say between three and $400 is a pretty average year for me. Sometimes it's a lot worse. But don't tell my husband (laughter).
PLUMMER: And, she points out, she's a veteran teacher. She's got a lot of extra supplies in her storeroom from years past. Beginner teachers sometimes spend two or three times that much. Art teachers, she adds, have to switch between classes, like painting and ceramics, each with a different list of supplies, like glazes, acrylics, X-ACTO knives for printmaking. After decades teaching, Woods knows good prices by heart. She calls herself the coupon queen.
How much are you hoping to spend today?
WOODS: Hoping not to spend (laughter)? I know that the Prismacolor pencils are very expensive. But I really believe that the students' quality of their work will go up with the quality of their materials. So it's worth it to me to spend a little bit more. Just for those two dozen pencils, it could cost me 20, $25. So I'm hoping to get out of here today under a hundred dollars.
PLUMMER: Inside, Woods works the aisles carrying a plastic shopping basket.
WOODS: So look at the price on this. It's a $1.80 for a pencil.
PLUMMER: It's more than she'd like to pay, but her students need these expensive colored pencils to learn the fine points of shading. Woods grabs nearly two dozen greens and browns, tears off a paper coupon...
WOODS: This rebate will do.
PLUMMER: And heads off to look for pencil sharpeners.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hi, how are you?
PLUMMER: So does she get out of there under that $100 goal? We'll come back to that in a minute.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing, unintelligible).
PLUMMER: At Cortines high, an art school downtown, Desiree Fowler also has a unique shopping list, like strings and guitar picks.
DESIREE FOWLER: I teach classical guitar ensembles and two choir classes.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)
FOWLER: Instead of having textbooks like a math teacher would, we have to order our own method books, our own sight reading books. I'm constantly finding new music.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)
PLUMMER: Fowler says the school district does pay for some supplies. But that can take too long.
FOWLER: I don't like spending time or energy talking about how we don't have things. I'd much rather just supply it for the kids.
PLUMMER: In all, Fowler has dropped about 500 bucks, and school only started a couple months ago. At the mini mall, Sheree Woods has just picked up a can of spray paint.
WOODS: Forty percent off, 45 percent off...
PLUMMER: As she shops, she needs a low price point. But she also needs quality supplies that will withstand a slew of teenagers. In the checkout line, Woods is doing some careful math with the cashier.
WOODS: And all of these things qualify for the sale prices?
UNIDENTIFIED CASHIER: Yes, 20 percent off.
PLUMMER: Then comes the total.
UNIDENTIFIED CASHIER: $128.08.
WOODS: Oh, yeah, I went over. I was hoping to get under a hundred.
PLUMMER: $128.08, nearly $30 over budget. And a few items still remain on her list. There's another big sale in February, and she says she'll be back. For NPR News, I'm Mary Plummer.
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