School costs can even lead to jail

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

On Monday afternoon, Demopolis Police received a call to Wal-Mart where a woman had just been arrested for shoplifting.

The items stolen told a tragic story: One pack of Crayola markers, one pack of Crayola pencils, Scotch tape, pens and Elmer’s glue.

In all, the items totaled less than $20, yet the arrest spoke volumes about the time of year for many people in Demopolis. There is no doubt the items were school supplies for a child, and there is no secret about how expensive it is to send a child to school.

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In the public schools alone, parents like Paula Canterbury know that school comes with a price tag. Canterbury had to pay a $38 registration fee and nearly $50 more for school supplies this week just so her child would have what every other child at school had.

And Canterbury only has one child. For families with more than one child, the expenses climb higher and higher.

While Canterbury didn’t stoop to the level of one mother who tried to steal from a local store, Wal-Mart Manager John Whitehead said this time of year comes second only to Christmas as a time when shoplifting occurs at his store.

In fact, Whitehead said one person caught stealing had $400 or $500 in her purse.

School supplies may be one thing, but there’s another problem parents face when having to search the checking account at the beginning of school.

In a time when fashion tops the list of social needs for young people, Rosalie Pearson said the age at which children want to dress in style gets younger and younger.

Pearson, the guidance counselor at West Alabama Prep, said her grandson &045;&045; who doesn’t attend school in Demopolis &045;&045; is in second grade.

In other words, younger children have a sense of fashion just like everyone else.

It’s difficult to put a price tag on how much parents are forced to spend on a good wardrobe for young people these days.

Stephen Gutshall, manager at Athlete’s Foot, said the most popular brand of tennis shoe in the past week has been the Nike Air Force One. In kid sizes, the shoe runs close to $50. For older children who wear adult sizes, the shoe cost climbs to nearly $80.

Having the best in fashion gets more important with age, according to Pearson, but that doesn’t always mean parents can afford to put their kids in the best of clothes.

There are options for parents who struggle to help pay for all the supplies needed for school.

Jan McDonald, head of the Demopolis Schools Foundation, said churches have put together supply packets that go to families in need. McDonald’s organization, however, does not provide school supplies.

So far this year, McDonald said she has seen supply bags from Trinity Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church, though there may be others.