By Erika Webb
Bells won't be ringing and carolers won't be singing, but parents will be shopping this weekend, trying to get the best bang for their back-to-school bucks.
The three-day sales tax holiday will begin at 12:01 a.m., Friday, Aug. 2, and end at midnight Sunday, Aug. 4. During this period, no Florida sales tax or local option tax will be collected on sales of clothing, footwear and certain accessories selling for $75 or less per item, on certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item.
For the first time since the holiday started in 1998, computers and certain related accessories selling for $750 or less and purchased for noncommercial use will not come equipped with sales tax.
One would assume a teacher and mother of two elementary school children, who has a penchant for shopping, would be all over this one.
But Dora Freed, a teacher at Blue Lake Elementary School in DeLand, did her back-to-school shopping last weekend.
She plans to avoid the tax holiday altogether.
"It does not excite me because I don't like to fight crowds," Mrs. Freed said. "It doesn't mean I don't need to save money because I do, but stores offer so many discounts before and after tax free, and they won't have those discounts during that weekend."
For example, she explained, Macys had an online sale over a week before the tax holiday.
If you want to impress this savvy shopper and avid researcher, lower a few prices during tax holiday, like coupon stacking. She might re-consider that crowd thing.
"It makes a difference if stores have sales on top of tax free," Mrs. Freed said. "It's almost a game ... if you pay attention, you can get the best of both worlds."
Over a decade of "doing" back to school has taught Mrs. Freed some lessons.
Office stores are less crowded than certain superstores and offer rewards for patronage. Department stores use enticing strategies to prompt shoppers to shop there before and after the tax holiday.
"Kohl's, Macys, JCPenney ... they're competing so I feel like they're sweetening the pot a little more," Mrs. Freed said. "Kohl's offers Kohl's cash so you save money (during the sale) and then after the tax break you go back and save again."
Have you ever met a teacher who didn't love to plan? They have planning days over the summer, too.
"Now, with the Internet, it's so much easier to find deals," Mrs. Freed said. "You can search the Internet and plan your trip before you even leave the house. You'll save gas."
You can't argue with two plus two logic.
Families with school-aged children will spend an average of $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics this year, down from $688.62 in 2012, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.
Mrs. Freed will end up spending around 65 percent of this year's predicted average on children for whom she does not possess birth certificates.
Aside from the contributions to Nike, Levi, Quicksilver and Duck Dynasty Mrs. Freed has made to satisfy the requirements of her 7 and 11 year old boys, she said she'll spend a chunk of her own money to keep her "other children" happy.
Her chunk is conservative compared to what some of her co-workers spend.
"On average, I probably spend about $400 of my own money and that's because I watch," Mrs. Freed said. "Others probably spend $1,000."
While school district budgets continue to shrink, teachers still have to motivate kids to think. How many first and second graders understand that hard work is its own reward?
That's why teachers like Mrs. Freed buy colorful notepads, pencils and erasers. That's why they have pizza parties and decorate their classrooms.
"If we went by what our contract says we'd get to school at 7:30, leave at 2:30 and the kids would get the bare minimum," Mrs. Freed said. "But it wouldn't be fun. We try to incentivize kids with extras to make it fun."
The $250 to $300 teachers get from the county at the beginning of the school year doesn't stretch far enough when parents, struggling to feed and house their children, are unable to provide the items suggested on the supply list, including pencils, paper, crayons, hand sanitizer and more.
"The county comes up with a list but it's not required," Mrs. Freed said. "Ours is a low socio-economic school so one-third of our parents can't afford to send in supplies."
During the tax holiday, she said, teachers are allowed to spend up to $100 using the county credit card, a drop in the 180-day school year bucket.
"That's less than a dollar a day for roughly 18 kids," Mrs. Freed said. "So we're taking money out of our own households."
Even the tax deduction allowed for their contributions has decreased from $500 to $250, she said.
Teachers aren't much different from students when it comes to the feelings tied to the beginning and end of the school year. The experience is emotionally cyclical.
"I'm excited to go back," Mrs. Freed said. "I'm always ecstatic on the last day of school. It's part of a release. I feel like the kids are ready for the next level and I'm ready for a break."
Over the summer she relaxes. She researches behavioral remedies and educational practices.
Then, before she knows it, it's time to do it all over again. There are always policy and curriculum changes, ever shifting ways of marching to the administrative beat. A new school year means getting to know a whole new batch of kids, and earning the trust of a new group of parents.
"Parents challenge you," Mrs. Freed said. "You get these parents at the beginning of the year, who hate your guts and then they turn and begin to trust you. They start to realize you have their children's best interests at heart."
At the start and end of each day the goal is each child's growth.
Along with last year's first-graders, Mrs. Freed will move to second grade this month. Previously she has taught Kindergarten and first grade. Though many things will be new to her, one condition remains unchanged. It's the reason she went to college and got a degree in education to begin with. Mrs. Freed has a deep, abiding love for all children. It's not about the perfectly behaved or those who get 100 percent on every test, she said.
With her, they can be who they are, even if it means getting out of their seats because they simply can't contain themselves. Even if it means getting a 60 percent on a test. If that 60 percent is up from 20 percent, Mrs. Freed said, growth has occurred.
"Every child, from the non-speaker to the child who needs enrichment or the very bright child, I have to challenge them at all times to make them successful," Mrs. Freed said. "They don't know (test-score) numbers and they don't know grades. They just know how the teacher makes them feel."
So she applauds growth in any direction.
"If a child has a heart they can be all over the place. I will do anything for them," she added. "And if the parents are on board ... a child is a sponge, is going to absorb and learn. Parents can't do it without teachers and teachers can't do it without parents. As long as we have each other, the child's going to be successful."