Tax Free Frustration

Once again we’ve reached the infamous tax-free weekend where we’re encouraged to buy all our kids’ school related stuff without having to pay sales tax.  One problem: we don’t have specific supply lists for the kids.  Following is a rant, and if it sounds familiar it’s because I ranted on the same topic this time last year.

This year we have one kid in middle school and two in high school.  I was able to find a generic supply list on the middle school’s website, but even then I had to find it by digging through their site and locating it in the "Document Manager" folder about four levels down from the home page.  Maybe they sent the list home with the kids at the end of school, but even so wouldn’t it be safe to assume that many folks lost it and that it would be a good idea to have a link to it from the school’s home page?  Also, the last item on the list says "Individual team lists with team specific supplies will be available at Open House."  Going to their handy-dandy calendar I find that the Open House is August 19, over two weeks after the tax-free weekend.

As for our two older kids there’s a nice note on the high school’s home page that students in Algebra I, Algebra II, Advanced Functions and Modeling, Pre-Calculus, Calculus should purchase one of three calculators for use in those classes.  Unfortunately there’s no mention of which calculator geometry students should purchase.  We learned the hard way last year with our oldest that you want to make sure you get the right calculator for geometry.  We’re hoping that his sister can use his from last year, but since it’s a different teacher we don’t know if she’ll recommend the same calculator or not. And of course I couldn’t find anything resembling a supply list on the school’s site.

I’m willing to bet that the teachers and administrators blame the state for having the tax holiday too early, and maybe they’re right. Heck, last year the Winston-Salem Journal editorial page went so far as to blame the tourism and real estate lobbies for getting the state general assembly to require schools to open later so that families could vacation at the beaches through August. (You can read the excerpt on my post from last year; unfortunately I think the original editorial is behind the paper’s firewall). But until the General Assembly acts and pushes the tax holiday further back couldn’t the teachers and administrators throw us a bone and have their lists ready and posted on the website by the end of July?  They don’t even have to make photocopies, just post them on the website! 

When you think about the money involved you begin to realize that this stuff adds up.  Specialized calculators can run you $100 or more, and by the time you throw in three ring binders, folders, presentation materials, special books, etc. you’re talking at least a couple of hundred bucks per kid.  Multiply that amount by 7% and you’re looking at real money.

Look at it this way: If we don’t include things for which we don’t need a list, like clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc. then maybe we’re talking about saving $15-20 in taxes on the items from the teachers’ specific lists.  Heck, let’s be even more conservative and say it’s $10.  Well at my kids’ high school there are roughly 2,000 students so at $10 per student that’s $20,000 in savings.  Isn’t getting a supply list online by the end of July worth $20,000?  Now take that $10 across all 51,000 students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County system and you’re talking half a million dollars that parents could be saving on the tax-free weekend.

Think about what $500,000 can get you.  You could fill a Chevy Suburban’s gas tank 1 1/2 times, or give the superintendent a 2% cost of living raise (I know, cheap shot).  Seriously though, this is crazy.  If you’re going to have a tax-free weekend specifically for school purchases then doesn’t it make sense to let parents know what they need to purchase?  Until the state changes the date for the weekend wouldn’t it make sense for the school board to require that schools/teachers have their lists up by the week before the tax holiday?

As I wrote last year there might be a good reason for this.  Teachers may not come back to work in time to get their lists together, but how much does it change from year to year?  Why not have it up on the school’s website before they go on summer break?  Or as my wife pointed out last year, why did we have those lists on time two years ago but not last year or this year?  Maybe the teachers need an incentive.  Well here’s one: we parents might not be so pissy when they hit us up for $3 for this party, and $5 for that achievement prize, and $2 for those extra hand outs to augment their lesson plan if they would help us out on these supply lists.    

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