MANATEE -- More than 200 teachers from Manatee County schools received $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, which starts Monday, 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 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 classroom.
Mary Glass, executive director of the Manatee Education Foundation, said grants are a "necessary addition" in 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's event was 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."
Manatee County Teacher of the Year Zada Bazzy of Oneco Elementary School, along with representatives from the Manatee Education Association, presented the grants.
Sponsors for the Manatee Education Foundation grants this year include 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 teacher and staff paychecks for the Manatee Education
Foundation also helped fund 35 grants.
Glass said most grants are for literacy programs or for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Grants range between $200 and $1,200 and are reviewed by a committee that scores the grants based on 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 Wednesday cover Take Stock in Children, equipment for the engineering academies at Palmetto and Southeast high schools, CPR classes for fifth-graders at Freedom and Bashaw elementary schools, environmental grants for field trips to museums and aquariums, an engineering lab at Daughtrey Elementary and supplies and specific needs of about 200 teachers.
Fulmer said she hopes the district's financial struggles will not overshadow the 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 she worries about district finances every year.
"Every year I think about it, but it doesn't only take money to make the school year," Poole said. "Good teachers can make a classroom experience from nothing,"
Superintendent Rick Mills said the district's goal has been bringing good teachers back into the classroom.
Mills said Wednesday 69 of the 182 teachers laid off last school year have been rehired in Manatee County.
Manatee County has 2,462 contracted teachers for 45,806 students enrolled this year, according to Daniel Lundeen, district supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.