Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Notebook (and the pen, and the crayons... )

More and more, teachers are purchasing school supplies -- but that doesn't completely let parents off the hook

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Ever wonder who those crazy people are loading up entire shopping carts with enough school supplies to outfit an entire classroom?

They're teachers. And no, they're not feeling so generous because their salaries are scheduled to go through the roof. An increasing number of schools are asking them to purchase pencil crayons, rulers, scribblers and other items before next Tuesday and then get reimbursed by their students' parents.

While that eliminates one significant element of the last-minute shopping blitz for many people, it doesn't mean parents are off the hook.

They still need to buy their children a number of important items teachers won't include with their supplies bundles.

Last year's backpack, for example, may need replacing. It is likely completely trashed after 10 months of toting books, shoes and half-eaten lunches back and forth from school. (And it probably has LAST year's popular superhero/Pixar character/teeny-bopper singer on it anyway.)

Plus, your child can barely get their toes into last year's indoor gym shoes, let alone their heels.

Depending on the age of your children, you may be doing some completely different shopping. Andrea Ethans has three children, Julia, who is going into Grade 3, Christopher (Grade 8) and Turner (Grade 11).

She's bought her youngest a new pair of high-top runners and a new backpack but she's not worrying about new clothes just yet.

"I'll wait until they're on sale. She can wear her summer clothes until the middle of September. You're not even thinking about a new pair of jeans in August," she said.

New clothes for boys in junior high and high school? Seriously, Mom?

"You don't do back-to-school clothes shopping for boys. They just wear what they're wearing," she says.

The must-have items of years gone by -- remember Wite-Out? -- have largely been replaced by technology.

The electronics needs -- as many schools move to bring-your-own-device classes -- are growing every year and it's not just for high school students, said Barry Olinyk, general manger at Advance Electronics.

"Technology has come to the school level in a lot of different age groups now," he said.

The most popular items flying off its shelves are tablets, which can be picked up for between $329 and $599.

"I don't know if tablets have replaced computers, but they're high on a lot of people's lists. You can use (tablets) for multiple purposes, for taking notes, email, doing presentations and listening to music," he said.

Smartphones are also popular, of course, with plans ranging from $45 to $95 per month. (The phone itself is often included if you buy a certain contract length.)

According to the annual BMO Back to School Survey released last week, Canadians plan to spend an average of $428 on back-to-school shopping this year, up 18.2 per cent from $362 in 2012 and 34.2 per cent from $319 in 2011.

Here's the breakdown by age:

-- $170 per child in kindergarten/elementary school.

-- $226 per child in junior/high school.

-- $572 per child in post-secondary/university.

Shoppers on the Prairies are near the top end of spending intentions at $450, trailing only Quebecers at $501. People in Atlantic Canada also intend to spend $450, followed by Alberta ($431), B.C. ($403) and Ontario ($390).

Tom Rossi, principal at âcole Robert H. Smith School, said it charges children in nursery and kindergarten $30 each -- which includes things such as paper, pencils, safety scissors and journals -- and $60 for grades 1 to 6 students.

"For the older kids, that's just five dollars a month, which is very cheap," he said. "The only essentials that parents have to purchase on their own are a backpack, indoor running shoes and gym clothes."

Rossi is a firm believer in uniformity and equality and having the teachers buy the school supplies means fewer problems with children competing with each other for expensive name-brand items.

"When children have the same products, there is less anxiety with the children about being different," he said.

Ethans is a fan of the uniform school supplies trend.

"You're not spending hours going from store to store trying to figure out which Duo-Tang you're supposed to get. It gives you back the last week of summer," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 A15

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