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School system attempts to lower back-to-school bill

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By Kate Darnell

Like many kids in Harrison County, my niece and nephew went back-to-school shopping this past weekend.

Emma, 10, and Will, 8, were a little reluctant to give up their lazy mornings and homework-free afternoons, but they both couldn’t help  getting excited about back-to-school shopping.

Each first day of school deserves a new outfit, right?

Both in elementary school at Southside, there were many things that didn’t make an appearance on Emma and Will’s shopping lists.

The Harrison County school system beat them to the punch.

In an effort to lessen the financial burden on parents, the school system provided the required school supplies for each and every elementary student in the district.

When students entered classrooms on Tuesday, they were greeted with new crayons, pencils, notebooks and gluesticks (to name a few), compliments of the Harrison County school system.

“I think it’s great they’re trying to help,” said Tracie Barnes, the mother of three, including an elementary and middle school student.

Barnes said she usually paid over $50 for back-to-school supplies for her kids.

“It’s hard when it hits you and you have to go get it all,” she said. “...I’m glad they paid for some of it.”

Part of the acquired stimulus money, the school system covered $20,000 of students’ fees at the high school and $20,000 of school supplies at the four elementary schools.

While school supplies and fees were not covered at the middle school, assistant superintendent DeeGee Fischer said the school system is paying for the extended days of the school’s new ag teacher.

By law, Fischer said, ag teachers are required to work 240 days of the year, increasing the cost of the position and program.

“It’s good for the elementary schools...” said Melinda Moss. “But it’s just not right for the middle school... It’s like giving one of your kids something and not giving it to the other.”

Moss, who has two granddaughters at HCMS, said she is having a yard sale this weekend to help pay for back-to-school supplies, clothes and fees.

“It was really stressful for me...” Moss said about back-to-school shopping this year. “I just don’t understand why there has to be such an expense for kids to go to school.”

Moss said she has spent $140 on school supplies and $300 on dress-code compliant clothes.

“It’s just like a huge electric bill coming in and you’ve got to pay it and if you don’t, your kids get penalized,” she said.

Fischer said she had been made aware of concerns regarding the school system not covering middle school supplies or fees, but she said she had also received many calls from parents excited about the new ag program being established this year at HCMS.

“That’s what was done,” she said.

Superintendent Andy Dotson said the school system recognized that today’s families were stretching their paychecks and wanted to do what they could to help alleviate back-to-school financial strain.

A first grade teacher at Northside Elementary, Cathy Slucher said she knows firsthand that back-to-school shopping can be a strain for parents.

“Parents worry about how they’re going to be able to pay for all their kids’ school supplies,” she said.

Also a parent, last year Slucher paid fees and supplies for three children of her own.

Their back-to-school bill, Slucher said, rang in at $200.

“As a teacher and parent, I was very excited to see that the school district was doing this,” she said.

Fischer said the office had received many phone calls and e-mails after parents were informed of the covered fees and supplies.

“We’ve had lots of ‘thank you’s,’” Fischer said. “People say it has really helped them.”

“This is something we would like to continue to do,” said Dotson.

“It’s definitely a priority for us,” said Fischer.