Real Life

Back to school costs

Most schools must turn to parents and businesses for support because they do not have enough funds.

Galas, sponsorships and deals with uniform and stationery suppliers are ways they can make up shortfalls.

School boards of trustees are responsible for choosing uniforms and deciding on agreements with suppliers.

Some schools have exclusive arrangements and this is when parents can feel it removes their right to choose the retailer and control their costs.

Branding has also become an important factor – schools have to be identifiable to attract overseas students so they bring in designers to showcase their “brand”. Today a plain polo shirt is a rarity – it will usually have the school logo and cost between $25 and $50. The more customised, the greater the cost. But is this customisation being done at the parents’, and sometimes taxpayers’, cost? Fronting up for several school-branded polo shirts for a growing child can be a struggle.

The Warehouse (obviously with a vested interest) believes the pendulum has swung too far. It reckons that a sensible option would be to allow for generic elements of school uniforms such as plain trousers, shirts and socks which can be bought anywhere.

Stationery can be another costly warzone. The easiest option is to go online to the recommended supplier, fill in the details and buy everything on a pre-filled list. Or you can buy the ready-made pack directly from the school or designated supplier.

A cost-effective option is to get the stationery list (not always easy), chop the unwanted items and shop around for the best deal. You have to have some sympathy for schools – stationery and uniform deals are attractive because they streamline an operation that is not a core business for them and provide them with much needed revenue. However, they can seem harsh to parents struggling to pay the bills.

One way of getting your voice heard if you disagree with where a school is heading is to be on the school board of trustees. Don’t be afraid to ask how your money is being spent – especially if you’re not being given any choice about where you spend it.

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