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Rising costs fuel fears for back-to-school buying

Nicole A. Hawley
Staff writer
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Posted 8/4/22

With gas and food prices continuing to rise, as well as costs associated with running and maintaining a household, representatives of the area’s Connected Community Schools initiative said …

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Rising costs fuel fears for back-to-school buying

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With gas and food prices continuing to rise, as well as costs associated with running and maintaining a household, representatives of the area’s Connected Community Schools initiative said they’re concerned about the local families who will struggle to get their children prepared for the new school year.

Connected Community Schools is run by the Rome Alliance for Education in partnership with Safe Schools Mohawk Valley and CNY Health Home Network to meet the educational, social, emotional and physical needs of students and families by connecting them to needed community resources. It operates in nearly a dozen local school districts.

Included in that mission are efforts to support students and teachers with the proper supplies needed to ensure a successful school year — even basic necessities like paper, pens, pencils and crayons.

Experts said surging inflation is having an impact on this year’s back-to-school spending, whether it be for supplies, clothing or other needs.

Walmart noted higher prices on gas and food are forcing shoppers to make fewer purchases of discretionary items, particularly clothing. Best Buy, the nation’s largest consumer electronics chain, cited that inflation has dampened consumer spending on gadgets. As a result, both companies cut their profit forecasts.

Such financial struggles amid the industry’s second-most important shopping season behind the winter holidays, mark a big difference from a year ago when several low-income shoppers, with government stimulus assistance in-hand, spent freely.

Matt Priest, CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America trade group, noted that last year, the group’s retail numbers saw a noticeable uptick in online sales mid-month when shoppers received their monthly child tax credit checks that amounted to a couple hundred dollars. This season however, without that bump, Priest said he expects shoppers will buy fewer shoes for their children and rely on private label brands.

Connected Community School Executive Director Melissa Roys said CCS is currently collecting school supplies and is accepting donations, as well as monetary donations. CCS includes Rome and Oneida city school districts, Adirondack Central School, Camden Central School, Canastota Central School, Central Valley Central School, Dolgeville Central School, Holland Patent Central School, Little Falls Central School, Madison Central School, Waterville Central School and Whitesboro Central School. CCS also recently expanded into New Hartford Central School and Mount Markham Central School.

“We want to ensure every kid has their basic needs met and in times like this, school supplies are part of that,” Roys said. “We partner with Walmart and local donors to help support our initiative of bringing items into our school HUB and having them available to our Connected students within our school district partners.”

Roys said Max’s Print Shop in Marcy is donating $30,000 toward school supplies for partner schools this year.

“We also get a lot of individuals who walk into our administrative building and give us stuff,” she said.

According to retail analytics firm DataWeave, a basket of roughly one dozen back-to-school supply items showed a price increase of nearly 15% on average for this season, compared to a year ago. The price of backpacks are up nearly 12% to an average $70.

Community members can stop by the Connected Community Schools Administration Building at 207 N. James St. in Rome, or can make a financial donation through the organization’s website at www.connectedcommunityschools.org.

“We’re hearing people are struggling so much with housing and food, that even our emergency food assistance programs are struggling,” said Roys. “What we’re afraid of is that when it comes to running a household, school supplies haven’t even made it to the list yet because families are struggling to navigate their macro needs. We worry our students will be ill-prepared for school and if they walk in on the first day unprepared, how successful can they be throughout the year?”

Several area schools that are hosting open houses for students and families are also collecting supplies, and plan to distribute them to students in attendance, before school even begins, Roys added.

As for donations needed, “we need the basic stuff like paper, folders, crayons and backpacks — backpacks are a big expense,” said the CCS executive director. “Sneakers and shoes are a big expense as well, and we’re also collecting them. Overall, we’re seeing the hit the rise in inflation is having on families that are struggling. We’re supporting our families and students, but also our teachers.”

She said, “Teachers have always, on average, spent about $35 a week on supplies, plus the start-up money that helps them prepare for the beginning of the year. Our initiative is looking to support teachers as well. We shouldn’t be having to ask our teachers to purchase their own supplies.”

On Aug. 16, Connected Community Schools is hosting representatives of 54 European Union countries, including the United Kingdom, at Little Falls High School.

“They are coming to learn more about us — how we created and how we’re maintaining our model,” said Roys. “It’s exciting to know that the next Connected Community Schools could be in Great Britain.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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