Each year, the average teacher in Pima County spends $1,200 of his or her own money on school supplies for the classroom.
Tucson Values Teachers, the organization formed to support educators, wants to defray that expense for supplies by asking for public donations of paper, writing implements, hand sanitizer and more.
Tucson Values Teachers has enlisted a corporate partner, Walgreens, which has Tucson Supplies Teachers collection boxes at 51 Southern Arizona stores, 50 in Pima County and one in Sierra Vista. In the county's schools as well as Sierra Vista, there are nearly 10,000 teachers working in public as well as private and charter schools.
Bruce Orach, store manager for Walgreens Drug Stores, said the stores are accepting supplies through Friday, Oct. 16. The campaign began Sept. 15. As of Monday, Sept. 28, about $2,000 in supplies had been donated.
"We can do a lot better than that," said Jacquelyn Jackson, executive director of Tucson Values Teachers.
Jackson said the organization polled teachers in February, asking how it could help teachers "during these tough economic times." Among 600 respondents, 78 percent suggested help with supplies.
"They said it's an accepted practice, that 'we're supposed to buy them,'" Jackson said. Classes go through hundreds of pencils, dozens of tissue boxes, bottles of hand sanitizer and reams of paper, much of it bought by teachers.
"This is wrong, it's unacceptable," Jackson said. "What can we do to make a difference here?"
Paper needs are most acute, Jackson said. "I keep hearing it's paper" from the teachers, she said, both blank paper for copies as well as lined paper for writing.
Less than two months into the school year, Jackson reports some schools are thin on supplies. One Sunnyside teacher said she had one pack of paper left.
Walgreens is donating 51 cases of computer paper to the program. That's 255,000 sheets, Orach said.
"That's a good start to inspire others," Jackson said.
Pens, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, pink erasers and more are needed as well. Collection boxes are placed at the front of each store. Donations are accepted whether they're purchased at a Walgreens or not. Schools have assigned representatives to each store. Boxes are emptied, donations inventoried and disseminated, with Walgreens keeping tabs on the totals.
Vicki Balentine, superintendent of Amphitheater Schools, said districts "typically are able to provide a general supply dollar amount per student." That stipend has remained "at the same level at least the last 10 years," Balentine said.
"Teachers have always … used their own money for materials, and for additional materials in their classroom for projects beyond what normally might be provided," Balentine said. Amphitheater is "generally fortunate to have many parents provide and donate supplies to classrooms," she added.
Jackson couples the out-of-pocket expenditure with her belief teachers are "underpaid already. It's a sad situation that we hope the Tucson Supplies Teachers program can help fix."
The Marana Chamber of Commerce is particularly interested in the school supplies drive. It is serving as the contact for the five Walgreens in Marana, making sure supplies reach schools. Marana stores at Coachline and Twin Peaks, and at Silverbell and Cortaro, are the largest participants in terms of donations, Orach reports.
Ed Stolmaker, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said "it's important for the Marana community for our children to be educated. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the business community and education. The only way to fix that is to get people together, and working together."
"Businesses like being part of this process," Orach said. "We don't want to be the only ones participating."
"We've seen lots of great reactions from the community," said Sam Brace of The Caliber Group, which is publicizing the drive. "It's raising awareness for the need. If we raise awareness of that alone, we've accomplished a large portion of our goal. Here's something people can do, it's affordable for everyone, and it can make a difference."
Tucson Values Teachers, which limited the length of the campaign "to get the urgency thing," wants its support to be more than a salutation, Jackson said.
"We're not like, 'here's an apple for teachers, and 'yea, you,'" Jackson said. Education is "the future of our region. We're all in this together."
Tucson Values Teachers was created from a regional town hall on education.
"Ultimately, can we as a community make this an education-first community that attracts the very best teachers?" Jackson said. To do so, it must boost salary levels for teachers, "and make them feel valued and honored, in recognition of the incredible role teachers play in our community." The donation effort is "an economic benefit to them," as well as recognition "of how important they are. There's probably no more critical profession in this nation than teaching."
Tucson Supplies Teachers
An effort to seek public donations of school supplies through Walgreens drug stores
Runs through Oct. 15