The Times West Virginian

August 12, 2012

Back-to-school expenses increase 6 percent for 2012

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Huntington Bank’s annual Backpack Index shows back-to-school costs going up for families this year.

Kim Guilfoile, vice president, regional marketing manager for Huntington Bank in West Virginia, explained that every year the company does a representative sample of pricing for typical school supplies and compares those to the previous year’s prices to show how costs have changed.

In addition to the usual supplies, the Backpack Index takes into account the costs for students to participate in extracurriculars, she said. A lot of the burden is placed on families to pay fees for sports, band, music classes, clubs and other activities.

Huntington surveys a cross-section of elementary, middle and high schools in the six states it serves, which are West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. According to the company, the index looks at moderately priced items at Staples, OfficeMax and other online retailers and value-cost backpacks at Big Lots.

The 2012 Huntington Backpack Index was released Aug. 1. This year, costs have unfortunately increased by as much as almost 6 percent, Guilfoile said.

The average annual costs for school supplies per elementary school student went up 3.4 percent from $530 to $548, middle school expenses rose 5.8 percent from $684 to $724, and high school costs increased 2.2 percent from $1,093 to $1,117.

Guilfoile said the biggest price jump was in musical instrument rental fees, which were up from an average of $299 in 2011 to $345 in 2012. The increases seemed to revolve around those pay-to-play fees that aren’t covered by schools.

In 2011, the costs increased by up to 25 percent from the previous year, which was attributed to some of the pay-to-play fees being passed on to families rather than being funded by the school system, she said. While there is also an increase for 2012, the good news is that it’s far less than last year.

“We just always want people to know that we’re committed to our communities,” Guilfoile said. “It’s trying to be a good corporate citizen and also raising awareness.”

She said Huntington is cognizant of the price increases and how families are impacted. The company provides tips for how others can step up to try to fill the need and help lessen the burden on families with school-age children, particularly during these difficult economic times.

For instance, if people have musical instruments at their houses that aren’t being used anymore, they could donate them to a school or loan them to kids who might not otherwise be able to participate in band. Some individuals may have old sports equipment, which could be given to a school for practice, Guilfoile said.

Individuals or companies can call the schools to see what supplies they might need, hold fundraisers for supplies in the local community, or donate cash to a booster program, she said.

As part of its Backpack Index effort, Huntington Bank is distributing more than 15,000 backpacks, stuffed with supplies, to school children in need in its six-state area. Pencils, pens, spiral notebooks, hand sanitizer and other items are included in the bags, Guilfoile said.

She said Big Lots sold the backpacks to Huntington at a significantly reduced rate and also donated supplies. In some areas, community members got merchants to donate additional school supplies or went the extra mile and did even more.

More than 1,300 backpacks are being given away in West Virginia. The company has tried to divide those backpacks as evenly as possible among the main areas that it serves, including Fairmont, Clarksburg, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Charleston, Huntington, Weston, Harrisville and other cities, Guilfoile said.

“I wish we had 10 times as many (backpacks) because the need is there,” she said.

She has worked with community partners who are involved with families in need in order to direct where the backpacks end up. Huntington has been busy distributing the bags before school starts.

Huntington’s Fairmont branch collaborated with The Family Resource Network to identify local families that would benefit from the backpacks. On Aug. 6, Huntington gave the Family Resource Network 100 backpacks. Fifty bags went to the Salvation Army and 50 to the Mannington Food Pantry.

Randy Farley, administrative assistant of curriculum, technology and instruction for Marion County Schools, said the local schools sometimes provide a suggested list of supplies for students and parents.

“That is up to the school whether or not they post a list,” he said. “There are no requirements for supplies, but some schools do ask for donations to classrooms, such as tissues or glue or Ziploc bags.”

As far as pencils, paper and notebooks, it’s usually up to the parents to provide those. But all schools also have some available for children who have issues with providing those items, Farley said.

“I know a lot of organizations in our community help supply things for backpacks for kids when school starts,” he said. “There are several church groups and different organizations in the community that do that.”

Farley said the student fees for sports and other activities just depend on the individual school, because they all do things a little differently. Sometimes instead of having a fee, a booster group takes care of the costs. Those groups also usually help a lot with unforms and other items that might be needed.

The board of education pays for the buses for activities, he said.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.