MANATEE -- More than 200 teachers from Manatee County schools received a total of $120,000 in grants Wednesday morning from the Manatee Education Foundation at the Ready for School Rally.
Teachers, school principals and support staff gathered for the celebration to prepare teachers with the finances they need to start the school year, without having to dig into their own pockets.
Ashlie Fulmer, a sixth grade language arts teacher at Haile Middle School, received a $500 grant to build a library in her classroom.
Fulmer said that having the resources is encouraging.
"I would have had to pay for this with my own money, so it is exciting to have an avenue to ask for these grants," Fulmer said.
Fulmer has been working over the summer to prepare her classroom for the new school year, moving into the school's main building from a portable.
Mary Glass, the executive director of the Manatee Education Foundation, said grants are a "necessary addition" for helping teachers start the new school year.
Glass said this is the third year in a row the Manatee Education Foundation has held a formal event for grant giving. This year, the event was held at Palmetto High School.
"There is usually distance between us when we give grants, and this brings it close," Glass said. "Donors know exactly what the money is being used for."
Representatives from the Manatee Education Foundation and the Manatee County teacher of the year Zada Bazzy of Oneco Elementary School presented the grants.
Sponsors for the Manatee Education Foundation grants this year included Bank of America, the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, the Early Learning Coalition, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Mosaic, Publix and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders.
Optional deductions in teachers' and staff's paychecks for the Manatee Education Foundation also helped fund 35 of the grants.
Glass said the majority of the grants are for literacy programs or for science, technology, engineering and mathematics
Glass said that grants range between $200 and $1,200 and are reviewed by a committee, who score the grants based on their requests for the classroom and college and career readiness.
"Almost all grants are funded," Glass said. "The teachers do a great job using creativity to see a need and taking the time to develop programs."
The grants awarded on Wednesday cover Take Stock in Children, equipment for the engineering academies at Palmetto and Southeast high dchools, health programs that teach CPR to fifth graders at Freedom and Bashaw elementary schools, environmental grants for field trips to local museums and aquariums, an engineering lab at Daughtrey Elementary and for supplies and specific needs of about 200 teachers.
Fulmer said that she hopes the financial struggles of the school district will not be prominent this school year.
"I love August," Fulmer said. "This is the only job where you get to start over every year."
Haile Middle School teacher Amie Poole, who received a $300 grant for classroom sets of National Geographic Kids and Scholastic, Jr. magazines, said that she worries about the district's finances every year.
"Every year I think about it, but it doesn't only take money to make the school year. Good teachers can make a classroom experience from nothing," Poole said.
Superintendent Rick Mills said that bringing these good teachers back into the classroom as been a goal for the district.
Pat Barber, the president of the Manatee Education Association, said this week that of the 182 teachers that were laid off last school year, 66 have been rehired in Manatee County.
"It is my understanding that all but six teachers were hired in Manatee County, surrounding districts, or in other states," Barber said.
Manatee County has a total of 2,462 teachers hired for the school year.
Currently, 45,806 students are enrolled this year, according to the district's supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment Daniel Lundeen.
Mills issued a release last Friday asking parents to register their children for this school year by Aug. 16. Mills said this will reduce the number of teacher transfers that occur after the start of the school year.
"It's very important for parents to register their children early so our schools can have a good grasp on the number of students they will have this year," Mills said in the release. "Registering early helps limit the disruption of having to move teachers from one school to another after the school year begins."
Mills said that sometimes parents of kindergarten students who are new to the school registration process have a trend of registering right before the first day of school, or after the school year has begun.
"Registering early can be a big help to our school district," Mills said. "It will also lessen the chances of your child having to adjust to a new teacher after the school year begins."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.