Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
Teaching is a costly profession for Chaparral High School teachers Debi and Robert LaPlante.
Each year, they spend about $1,000 to provide their students with much-needed school supplies.
The LaPlantes — along with many teachers in the Clark County School District — have long dug deep into their own pockets to supplement the district’s dwindling school supplies budget, which was slashed in half after the latest budget cuts.
More than 90 percent of teachers nationwide have used their own money on classrooms, according to a 2007 U.S. Department of Education study. On average, teachers spent $936 on school supplies and instructional materials in 2009, according to a retail market study by National School Supply and Equipment Association released last year.
It all adds up, but the LaPlantes have been able to save thousands of dollars by shopping at the Teacher Exchange, a nonprofit re-use resource center for some 18,000 Clark County teachers and licensed staff.
“A lot of my students can’t afford supplies or don’t have someone to bring them to the store to buy them,” Debi LaPlante said. “When I see a kid’s backpack all ratty, I’ll go to the Teacher Exchange and get stuff all the time.”
Founded in 2002, the Teacher Exchange collects gently-used office, school and art supplies donated by the community, from retiring teachers, stores going out of business and conventions. The nonprofit — based in a large warehouse near Sunset Road and Interstate 15 — then sells the supplies to teachers at a steep discount.
Teachers pay a $20 tax-deductible membership fee to receive 500 points, which they use to purchase supplies. (New members receive 100 free points, and members can purchase additional points. Teachers sign an agreement when they become members to use the supplies for the classroom only.)
Need gluesticks? They’re 5 points each.
An unused backpack left over from a convention? 30 points.
How about a used chair from Starbucks? 20 points.
A bookcase? Just 100 points.
With discounts like this, teachers waited more than an hour in line to purchase supplies for their students when the Exchange first opened in a tiny North Las Vegas warehouse. The store had just one half-time employee but has grown to six full-time workers, said Judi Steele, president of The Public Education Foundation, a Las Vegas nonprofit that operates the Exchange.
“We grew this from the grass roots,” Steele said. “The teachers inspired us. While they waited in line, they kept saying, ‘We can’t believe someone is giving us this for nothing.’”
In 2008, Caesars Entertainment and its philanthropic foundation joined The Public Education Foundation to help fund and grow the Teacher Exchange. In the last three years, School District employees have made more than 26,000 visits to the Exchange, picking up more than 1.1 million items valued at $3 million for their classrooms.
On Friday, Caesars presented a three-year, $750,000 grant to The Public Education Foundation to support the Teacher Exchange. To date, the casino has donated $1.5 million and $43,000 in supplies to the Exchange.
“The youth are our future,” said Rick Mazer, the regional president of Caesars Entertainment. “It’s important that we provide them with the tools for their (educational) foundation. They are our future employees.”
Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones and School Board President Carolyn Edwards on Friday thanked Caesars Entertainment and the Foundation for their continued support of the Teacher Exchange. Edwards commended Caesars for “stepping up” with its donation, which will help create a “real sense of community” in Las Vegas.
“We need to come together so that everyone is successful and we have an educated, ready-to-work workforce,” she said.