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Back to Basics is focus for back to school

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By Sam Hickman

Brunswick County Schools administrators reverted to the essentials when devising this year’s school supply list, especially in anticipation of the Carolinas’ sales tax-free weekend Aug. 2-4.

Members of the Teacher Advisory Council, central services staff, and county principals collaborated to make the list, called Back to Basics.

The groups tackled these projects after “realizing an unintended consequence of sharing needs or wish lists was portraying the system as one that could not provide for the basic needs of classrooms or students,” said Jessica Swencki, director of quality assurance and community engagement for the school system.

The list has been shared with local businesses to post as parents and other community members begin school shopping. While this list will primarily be used by parents of elementary and middle school students, it applies to all schools in Brunswick County.

Back to Basics can also assist churches, civic groups and other community organizations undertaking school supply collection drives for students in need.

According to the list, Brunswick County Schools will provide tissue, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, plastic zipper bags, copy paper, construction paper, glue or glue sticks, crayons, highlighters, markers, dry-erase markers, scissors, index cards, paper clips, folders and sheet protectors.

Parents and guardians are responsible for providing loose-leaf paper, spiral-bound notebooks, No. 2 pencils, pencil boxes, colored pencils, erasers, headphones or earbuds, and a bookbag or binder for their students.

The collaborative effort to make shopping for supplies as effective and efficient as possible has become increasingly difficult for school systems across North Carolina as budget cuts have reduced classroom supply funding by $45.7 million.

The Brunswick County School system hopes that the Back to Basics list, paired with this coming tax-free weekend, will provide an better opportunity to get school supplies more affordably, Swencki said.

According to the state revenue department, items exempt from the sales tax include clothing, footwear, and school supplies of $100 or less per item; school instructional materials of $300 or less per item; sports and recreational equipment of $50 or less per item; computers of $3,500 or less per item; and computer supplies of $250 or less per item from sales tax.

An eReader with enhanced computing functions, such as Internet access, is considered a computer during the sales tax holiday. Basic eReaders are not exempt from the sales tax, but tablet computers and netbooks of $3,500 or less per item are during the weekend.

One of the chief concerns in developing Back to Basics was placing a heavy financial strain on students’ parents and guardians, said Helen Davis, Brunswick County Schools executive director for elementary education.

“In the past, there have been supply lists that have been wrong, and it put too much of a burden on (the parents),” she said. “We wanted to have this list out in time so parents could take their time. They can take advantage of the tax-free weekend, and they know with this list they’re getting the right supplies.”

Justin Hayes, an eighth-grade science teacher at Shallotte Middle School and parent of two children in the Brunswick County school system, echoed Davis’ sentiments,

“Over the past few years, school supply lists seem to have grown and they can cover a wide range of needs, especially for parents with children in different schools,” Hayes said. “Administration worked to implement this generic list that will seemingly help simplify things for the parents and community while possibly easing any financial burden that may arise with the start of the upcoming school year.

“It’s just a great time to release this list, especially with tax-free weekend approaching,” he said. “I believe the parents and community members, along with teachers, will find this list to be very useful.”

For a complete list of items exempt from the state sales tax Aug. 2-4, go to htwww.dornc.com/press/2013/salestaxholiday.html on the N.C. Department of Revenue website, or call its Taxpayer Assistance Division at (877) 252-3052.

Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or shickman@brunswickbeacon.com.