GREAT FALLS- Back to school season is here. Teachers are getting their classrooms ready to go, but the furniture and decorated bulletin boards all come with a price tag, one they're paying for themselves.
Over the last four years, Ashlee LaCasse, a Great Falls Public School 2nd grade teacher at Meadowlark Elementary has spent over $3,000 of her own money on her classroom. She's been fortunate to have help from grants adding up to $1,000 over the last three years.
That's not saying much though considering some teachers don't have any grants helping them out.
“I've been super fortunate to have great support from parents and PTA, but that's not the same in every school and with budget cuts and 1% raise, it doesn't allow teachers much wiggle room in their budgets," said LaCasse.
LaCasse has bought big items like tables, bookshelves and library books. She also has to buy smaller items like pencils and erasers in case her students run out or can't afford to buy them.
"You know I have lots of different furniture in here. A lot of it I've bought off online yard sale or I've had people donate to my room. I try to give it a little tender, love, and care and fix it up, and repurpose it and reuse it. My students love when I bring in a new piece of furniture because I have flexible seating in here,” said LaCasse.
LaCasse's secret is bargain shopping. But, it's still challenging considering she has three little kiddos of her own meaning she has to buy supplies for them on top of making sure her students have enough.
GFPS did switch over to a district-wide school supply list this year to make it easier for parents. However, items like Clorox wipes and tissues aren't on it. Those are things teachers especially need during the cold season. So if you can, teachers suggest to bring in those items along with extra supplies.
Although teachers get a small amount to spend on their classroom every year, LaCasse says it's just not enough and every year it becomes less and less.
"We just need to figure out how to get there. Whether that's a Mill Levy. I don't know if that's the answer or more parent involvement or community involvement. I would be excited to see any of those changes happen in the community,” said LaCasse.
Over time, LaCasse thinks teachers spending money on their own classroom will change.