With one final weekend before school starts, parents have one more chance to blitz the shops in search of back to school deals.
And there’s one area in particular where the annual tradition can feel more like a chore: mandatory school supplies.
It can be a serious strain on the pocket book, particularly if you happen to live in the wrong school district.
That’s because B.C. doesn’t have a standardized school supply list, and each district (and indeed, often each school) handles the list of supplies differently. That can make for a big difference when it comes to the bill at the checkout. In some cases, the cost can be nearly five times greater.
To get an idea of how the pricetag can vary for parents in different cities, CKNW grabbed a current school supply list for a grade six class from nine schools in different Metro Vancouver districts, and went “virtual shopping.”
Here’s how it shook out:
Outside of Richmond and Vancouver, who charge a flat fee, no school we looked at produced a list at under $50. Burnaby came in at the lowest, with $56, followed by Delta at $71. Langley was the most expensive at $115, followed by Surrey at $103.
Leading the pack when it comes to affordability on the list are Vancouver and Richmond, both of which charge a flat fee for access to school supplies.
Richmond School Board chair Debbie Tablotney says the flat fee varies between schools in her district, between $25-35, but says it saves both time and money for families.
“I think it simplifies it for the parents. And we can also buy at a discount so we buy in bulk and that saves dollars for the parents.”
She says the fees cover virtually everything the kids use throughout the year, with the exception of a few requests from individual teachers such as tissue paper.
Vancouver too charges a flat fee, which is meant to provide students with a year’s worth of supplies. Additionally, the VSB will waive the fee for parents facing financial hardship.
Outside of those districts, the costs can add up quickly, and one of the reasons is the inconsistency in what students are being asked to bring to class.
Certain items, like scissors, white erasers, HB pencils and duotangs are present on virtually every list. Students are also on the hook for their own lined paper, and even Kleenex these days.
However, some lists are longer than others. The school we reviewed in Burnaby had 21 items vs. 28 on the list for Langley.
Several schools wanted kids to bring multiple rulers and pencil sharpeners, dozens of duo tangs, and up to half a dozen glue sticks.
Some schools are also very specific about what they ask for, like Yorkston Creek Middle School in Langley, which for example wants kids to bring two “3-ring cloth pencil cases” and 3×3 inch post-it notes.
The school we reviewed in West Vancouver requires students to bring earbud headphones.
And technology appears to be invading the old-fashioned school supply list. Along with calculators, virtually every school reviewed also asked for kids to show up with a 2-8gb USB flash drive.
Dictionaries, French-English Dictionaries, and Thesauruses also made the list, boosting prices. These items, however, shouldn’t need to be purchased every year.
Many of the lists provided for schools call for specific brand name products. For consistency, we used these items when called for in calculating the lists, however there’s nothing to say a parent would have to. Opting for no-name products, or simply shopping around is an easy way to shave a few dollars off the final price tag.
Schools reviewed in North Vancouver and West Vancouver also prompted parents to buy a set list of items through an order form, potentially saving time, but eliminating the chance to shop around and score a deal here and there.
To calculate the cost, we looked at Canyon Heights Elementary in North Vancouver, Hillcrest Middle School in Coquitlam, Hellings Elementary School in Delta, Yorkson Creek Middle School in Langley, Surrey Centre Elementary in Surrey, Ecole Cedardale in West Vancouver, and Gilpin Elementary in Burnaby, using the most current school supply list on their websites.
You can see those lists in full below:
Calls for a flat fee system
Meanwhile, one parent says she was shocked to find out Vancouver and Richmond have flat fees for school supplies.
“Isn’t there a standard of what all the kids are going to need in the class?”
Ariel Pavic sits on the Parent Advisory Council at Capitol Hill Elementary in Burnaby.
She says parents have longed for a flat fee for school supplies for years.
“I know a lot of parents would prefer just to be able to pay, whether it would be 50 bucks or something like that, where you are just paying and all your stuff is purchased. And I would assume the school would get the benefit of bulk purchasing.”
Pavic says if Vancouver and Richmond have it than it should be standardized across all school districts.
She says she spent over 100 dollars for her grade six daughter this year.
Parents in Surrey are paying $103 dollars for supplies this year.
Doug Strachan with the Surrey School District.
“I know that there are some schools that organize and work with their respective parent advisory council to buy in bulk or provide some sort of flat fee and sell in kits.”
And a flat fee for school supplies is exactly why Vancouver and Richmond are on the cheaper end.
Both districts charge a fee of 25 to 35 dollars, and the supplies your kids need are provided.
Chair of the Richmond School Board Debbie Tablotney says it covers the basics.
“Paper, and it would cover markers, pencils, any utensils that the student would need to use in the classroom. We can buy in bulk, so I think that’s where the savings are for he parents.”
Next is Burnaby on the lower end at 56 dollars.
Some lists are longer than others, though; Burnaby had 21 items while Langley had 28.
As for Surrey, Strachan says the Board hasn’t looked at bringing a flat fee across the district.