Originally created 09/22/00

Teachers eligible for 'refund'



No receipts, no refund.

School districts statewide started getting the money owed their teachers for classroom incidentals late last week. But Aiken County teachers who didn't save receipts can't get the $100 coming to them.

Some districts are following Aiken County's rules. Others are just giving their teachers the money, no questions asked, because they know $100 doesn't come close to covering what they spend out of pocket.

"But every little bit helps," said Jamie Mason, a kindergarten teacher at Cyril Busbee Elementary School in Wagener. She used the money to buy educational toys for her "learning centers," even though many supplies she needs for her 4-year-olds already come out of the district's child development budget.

In nearby Edgefield County, teachers must fill out a one-page form. Superintendent Sharon Keesley said she didn't know whether receipts are required.

During the past legislative session, Lexington Sen. Nikki Setzler proposed giving every certified teacher $100 for supplies and materials their districts can't afford to furnish.

That's because teachers often spend their own money - an average of $300 to $500 a year, the South Carolina Education Association says - buying the extras pupils need to learn.

The state pays only for textbooks. Aiken County spends an additional $17.10 per pupil on instructional supplies. But some counties don't. Some schools have parent-teacher organizations that raise money for incidentals, but others don't.

In a patchwork quilt of different systems, Mr. Setzler said the thing he hears most from teachers is that they spend their own money on tools to do their job.

Apparently, other legislators hear it, too, because Democrats and Republicans alike signed the senator's bill. And eventually, it got through both chambers. Gov. Jim Hodges, who was elected on an education platform, signed it into law.

The state Department of Education started handing out the $5.2 million to be split among 36,000 teachers late last week.

But some teachers won't get the money the Legislature promised them because of different reimbursement requirements set by each of the state's 86 districts. It's up to them to decide how to account for the money.

"I think the legislative attempt was admirable," said Jim Petrie, executive director of the Education Association, the state's largest teacher's organization. "But it's the bureaucratic requirements that make it cumbersome."

Unclaimed money goes back to the state.

"You have 86 school districts and 86 accounting procedures," said Elmer Whitten, deputy financial director for the state Department of Education. "The main objective is that teachers are reimbursed for supplies."

Rep. Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, could draft legislation as early as January that would increase the amount of money for supplies to $200.

That's good news to Tracy Holsenback. On average, she spends $400 each year, mostly on books for her first-grade pupils at East Aiken Elementary School. And like most teachers, she spends her own money to decorate the classroom she uses.

Factor in rewards such as pencils, posters, stickers and candy for those who do well, and the cost adds up.

"Every year we agonize over what we can afford, and this money has made it so much easier," Mrs. Holsenback said.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.