Tips for saving on back-to-school costs

PHOENIX – Back-to-school spending is cutting more deeply into family budgets than ever before. In fact, the National Retail Foundation expects parents to shell out $83.6 billion this year to send their children and college students back to school, an increase of 10 percent over last year.

“Back-to-school season puts a lot of strain on families, and spending keeps going up every year,” said Mike Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management counseling agency. “School budget cuts have shifted the cost of supplies to families, but savvy parents can minimize their spending without skimping on necessities.”

Sullivan offers nine tips for saving money on back-to-school:
Repurpose: Kids need many of the same supplies every year, and items like scissors and rulers can withstand many school years. Saving even a few bucks here and there will quickly add up.

Splurge and scrimp: You may want to splurge on a few items that are important to your kids, like a cool new backpack or high-end calculator. Then scrimp on everything else, opting for low-price and store brand glue sticks, binders and markers.

Stick to the list: Teachers’ supply lists have become more extensive – and expensive. It’s smart to stick to the list and avoid impulse purchases on unnecessary items.

Compare prices: Laptops and calculators can put a big dent in the back-to-school budget, so make sure you’re getting the best price. Pick from numerous apps that track prices on costly electronics to ensure you’re getting the best value.

Wait to buy: Even better, put off purchases on pricey items until after Labor Day. Just like holiday shopping, retailers hold fire sales after the rush is over.

Shop tax-free: Many states offer a tax-free weekend to help parents save money on back to school. Look online to see if your state participates, and take advantage of the savings.

Find retailer deals: Retailers ramp up promotional offers as the start of school approaches. Sign up for emails and check social media pages of your kids’ favorite brands, then make your purchases when you find a good deal.

Shop second-hand: Clothing swaps are a smart choice for parents looking to exchange gently used clothing, and second-hand shops, Craigslist and eBay are good options for finding trendy and brand-name gear at a low cost.

Include kids in the process: Give your kids a back-to-school budget for higher-price items like clothes and shoes. They’ll learn an important lesson about blowing the budget on one or two pricey brand-name items or stretching their dollars for a bigger haul.
SOURCE Take Charge America, Inc.

Coppell hires two Deputy City Managers

Two new leaders will soon take the helm as Deputy City Managers for the City of Coppell. Traci Leach, Assistant City Manager for the City of La Porte and Noel Bernal, Assistant City Manager for the City of Taylor, were selected and offered the positions in late July. Leach and Bernal will officially join the City of Coppell team on Aug. 28.

“The entire Executive Team participated in the interview process and were highly impressed by these two individuals and their commitment to service,” Coppell City Manager Mike Land said. “Each brings a unique set of skills to the Executive Team and both are committed to becoming actively involved in the community.”

Leach has been the Assistant City Manager in the Houston-area City of La Porte since 2011 and began her career in Farmers Branch as a management analyst in 1999. She is committed to community service and has volunteered her time as a member of the La Porte Education Foundation and as President-Elect of the La Porte Rotary Club. She was also named Rotarian of the Year in 2015. Leach received her Masters of Public Administration from the University of North Texas in 1999 and her Bachelors of Political Science from Austin College in 1997. She is married and has one daughter.

Bernal has served as the Assistant City Manager for the Austin-area City of Taylor since 2015. He also served as City Manager for the City of Falfurrias and La Villa and began his public service career in economic development for the City of Pharr. He is highly involved in professional development and serves on the membership committee, City Managers of Tomorrow Task Force and as the Region VII Treasurer for the Texas City Management Association. Bernal received his Masters of Public Administration in 2013 and his Bachelors in Sociology from the University of Texas Pan American. He is married and has a son and a daughter.

The Deputy City Manager positions in Coppell were previously held by current City Manager Mike Land and Mario Canizares, who accepted a position for the City of Denton last May.

SOURCE City of Coppell

Concealed carry now a reality at North Lake College

A state wide concealed carry policy for all Texas community colleges took effect on Tuesday, Aug. 1.

In June of 2015, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 11, which now permits License to Carry (LTC) holders to keep a concealed handgun on or about his or her person into any institution of higher education in Texas.

On Aug. 1, 2016, the legislation went into effect for all Texas four-year colleges and universities.

“We are prepared, and our students are prepared,” said Carole Gray, Dean of Disability Services, Veterans Affairs and Counseling Services at North Lake College. “We have information going out to student, facility, and staff. This is part of who we are now, and to predict the future wouldn’t do us any good. We can only wait and see.”

“The law does not allow ‘open carry’ on college campuses,” said Lauretta Hill, Dallas County Community College District’s (DCCCD) Commissioner of Public Safety and Security. “Open carry refers to the intentional display of a handgun, including the partially- or wholly-visible display of a handgun stored in a shoulder or belt holster. The law also does not allow the carry of rifles or shotguns on college campuses.

“In the future, students, facility, and staff can expect to see several changes regarding their security, including being required to wear identification name badges. This will also effect visitors who will be required to show identification at the front desk before walking campus grounds.”

Certain campus locations do not allow firearms such as child-care centers, polling places, sporting events, or any locations where grievance or disciplinary proceedings are conducted. The college prohibits the use, possession, or display of any illegal knife, club, or prohibited weapon that cannot be concealed.

Proponents of open carry believe arming the ‘good guys’ allows individuals to protect themselves and others in a world where bad guys carry guns.

“I feel that now it’s kind of better, because at least now we can protect ourselves if something happens, especially because of what happened recently,” said Ashley Gonzalez, a North Lake student, referencing a violent campus shooting in May which claimed two lives. “I believe as long as the students and facility are responsible and they know how to use it right and not play around with it, then they should be allowed to bring it here.”

Opponents of open carry are often quick to point out that statistically a gun owner is more likely to be shot by his own weapon than use it to defend himself or others.

“Our focus has been on compliance with the law and making sure that the college community understands what is allowed and what is not allowed,” said Dr. Christa Slejko, President of North Lake College. “Over the last year, we have held public forums to solicit feedback and questions from the community, the employees, and students. We’ve also had the opportunity to participate in the development of the DCCCD policy for implementation of the law.

“I think it means we will be adjusting to this new environment based upon our individual feelings about concealed carry. As you know, this is a controversial subject with proponents and opponents on both sides. In addition to complying with state law, it is also our role to be sure that our facility, staff, students and community understand the law and how concealed carry will look on a college campus. Above all, we don’t want this to be a distraction from our learning mission.

“The only part of the law that is open to local control is in the area of exclusionary, or gun free, zones. With input from the many constituents involved in our planning, the DCCCD Board approved as part of their policy, exclusionary zones. Exclusionary zones cannot be used to work around the intention of the law, but examples of approved gun-free zones including sporting events, the college Health Center, the Counseling Center and lab areas in which there are combustible materials.”

Local Irving family fighting for paralyzed son

On the morning of July 14, Alexia Rafeedie received a call from her mother, Sandi Brown, saying there had been a family emergency. Alexia was asked to return home immediately. A hospital in Hammond, Louisiana had called Brown minutes earlier saying her son had been in an accident, but they could not give more information on his condition.

Alexia picked her mom up and together they drove over eight hours to Louisiana to learn what had happened. Sandi’s son, Patrick Rafeedie, 20, was driving his new motorcycle to work when a truck pulled in front of him, causing him to slam into the back. His upper body took much of the force of the initial blow before he flew into the air and landed hard on the pavement, sliding nearly 200 feet.

Most of Patrick’s ribs were either broken or fractured. Both of his lungs collapsed. His pelvis was broken, and he had no feeling from the waist down.

“They didn’t think he was going to make it,” Alexia said.

Paramedics worked on him for over 45 minutes before airlifting him to North Oaks Hospital in Hammond.

“Most of the time he recognizes me,” Sandi said. “He doesn’t know where he’s at. Sometimes he’s in Florida. It’s touch-and-go with what he remembers and what he doesn’t. We have to explain to him that he’s in a hospital. He doesn’t realize, and when he does, he gets a really terrified, scared look on his face.”

Patrick’s hands are restrained to prevent him from pulling out or breaking the medical devices keeping him alive. He has a trachea in his neck providing oxygen and a peg in his stomach feeding him.

“He’s pulled the peg out five times,” Sandi said. “He’s actually broken the tubes on the trachea twice, not just pulled it out but both times he’s actually broken the tubes.”

Patrick, who lost his older brother in 2009 to a car accident, just finished his sophomore year at Louisiana’s Southeastern University. A boy that Alexia describes as very family oriented and hard-working, he had recently started a job at a landscaping company to help pay for college.

For his mother, a State-Farm insurance agent that owns her own agency on MacArthur Blvd, keeping spirits high and still running the business has been a struggle.

“My daughter has been here as much as she can, but I need her at the office working,” Sandi said. Sandi has been at the hospital for over 26 days, and the hospital staff set up an air mattress in the waiting room for her.

The truck driver received a ticket for failure to yield at a stop sign. He was driving on a suspended license and has had a bench warrant out since 2012. At the time of the accident, he had no insurance on the vehicle and was driving four children.

“I’m working hard to get somebody to pick him up on the warrant that he’s had out since 2012,” Sandi said. “Then I’m waiting for this case to be put on the docket so I can try to pursue further charges.”

On Thursday, August 3 Patrick had back surgery to fix his fractured T4 through T11 and T1 spinal nerves. Sandi said he may need more surgery as they monitor each day.

Since the accident, Patrick has not recovered feeling from his waist down. He has received 19 units of blood and is on life support, but doctors told his family to remain optimistic.

“They’ve told us not to give up hope, but as of now it’s not looking good,” Sandi said. “My goal is to get him completely off the ventilator, to get him in the right state of mind, and to get his physical therapy started. That’s the goal before they’re able to even get him out of SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit).”

For now, the family has limited hospital visits to immediate family because Patrick contracted MRSA in his lungs, an infection caused by a staph bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. He also fights fevers every night from a rare super bug in his lungs that doctors have yet to identify.


Although the family has insurance, most medical providers will cover up to a certain amount, leaving the family to foot the bill for the remaining cost.

“Out-of-pocket expenses he’s incurred so far on 23 days is $32,000,” Alexia said. “That’s not including what health insurance is going to cover. That’s out of pocket that we have to pay.”

Patrick is set to be in ICU for a few more weeks before moving to another room. The price of staying in an ICU varies, but generally is over $5,000 a day.

Although Patrick was initially air lifted just five miles from the site of the accident, the cost of that flight alone could easily be thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, medical flights are not required to report fees, and they can range from $12,000 to as much as $25,000 per flight.

Sandi was told by the hospital staff that the medical flight will not be covered by insurance. Now, the family hopes to save money so they can air lift Patrick to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, one of the leading rehab facilities in the country. A medical flight to Houston from Hammond could cost as much at $20,000.


Patrick’s family made the decision to make their private struggle public. They hope that by telling their story, they can raise money for his rising medical costs. The money raised will help cover continued care after hospitalization and living expenses after rehabilitation. The family’s GoFundMe page has a goal of $50,000.

“The funds will go for anything that insurance doesn’t cover as far as any medical equipment he’s going to need,” Sandi said. “He’s going to need a wheelchair. He’s going to need ramps whenever he does come home. He’s going to need living expenses and getting readjusted to being paralyzed.”

A family friend has set up a blood drive at Sandi’s office on August 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 717 North MacArthur Blvd to store blood for the Irving community. The blood won’t assist Patrick directly, but is a way for Brown and her family to honor his name.

“With the amount of blood that has been given to Patrick, I want to do something for our local community,” Sandi said. “Without the blood that Patrick’s been given, he wouldn’t be here.”

Mark your calendar!

Back-to-School Nights
August 15-18

Each campus in the district will host a back-to-school event that will give families and students the opportunity to meet teachers, drop off school supplies and become familiar with the school. In addition, those who have not completed all steps of the registration process can do so at these events. The schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, August 15 – high schools, 5 to 7 p.m.

Wednesday, August 16 – middle schools, 5 to 7 p.m.

Thursday, August 17 – elementary schools, 5 to 7 p.m.

Friday, August 18 – early childhood schools, 2 to 4 p.m.

School Supply Drive
August 18, 6 – 7:30 p.m. 

First Baptist Church in Irving (403 S. Main Street) will be having a School Supply Drive to help provide students with the tools they need to succeed. Parents of Kindergarten – 5th grade students may pick up a free package of school supplies, while supplies last. 

Educational scholarships awarded to children of Irving Police Department

Fran Mathers of Via Reál Restaurant awarded collegiate scholarships from the Pat Mathers Scholarship Foundation to six extraordinary children of Irving Police officers On Wednesday, July 19. The foundation awarded a total of $34,000 in tuition scholarships for the 2017‐2018 academic year to Michaela Braly, Makayla Moore, Mikayla Burres, Connor Vincent, McKenna LeCroy, and Tori Zettle.

The selection of scholarship winners comes from an applicant pool of children from Irving Police officers and civilian employees. They are all college bound or current college students who excel in academics, community service, extracurricular activities, and who exhibit “above and beyond” ambitions to reach their goals. 

The mission of the Pat Mathers Scholarship Foundation is to help further the education of the children of Irving Police Officers and to ease the financial burden on their parents. Funding is raised at Via Reál’s Pat Mathers Scholarship Foundation Fundraiser which takes place once a year at the local restaurant. This year’s upcoming fundraiser is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2017.  

The University of Dallas will match Pat Mathers Scholarship Foundation scholarships for students enrolled in the University of Dallas. 

Fran Mathers, owner of Via Reál Restaurant, began the foundation in 2007 in memory of her late husband, James Patrick Mathers, who was a great supporter of the Irving Police Department.

SOURCE Pat Mathers Scholarship Foundation

U.S. pet toys market tops $1 billion

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Toys is the largest durable dog and cat petcare category with sales crossing the $1 billion threshold in 2016, up from $851 million in 2011. This reflects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4 percent, according to market research firm Packaged Facts in the brand new report Dog and Cat Toys: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities. Packaged Facts forecasts similar annual gains looking ahead to 2020.

As in the overall market, dogs account for the lion’s share of sales, at 75 percent in 2016, with cats accounting for the remaining quarter. Dog toys continue to see steady growth in sales as one of the faster growing segments within the durable petcare category. Much of the growth can be attributed to the steady demand in sport and fetch toys as well as renewed interest in chew toys and a new love of more durable plush toys. Packaged Facts pinpoints the uptick in chew and plush dog toys as a promising opportunity for both pet product manufacturers and retailers.

Historically, dog owners have always been more willing to purchase toys for their pets than cat owners, notes David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. A look at households by pet type over the last six years shows this trend has been consistent over the entire period. It is also worth noting that the percentage of households with either cats or dogs purchasing toys has stayed above 53 percent for this period as well, although there have been larger shifts in the percentage of households buying toys that own just cats or just dogs. However, the biggest change, and a positive one at that, is in households with both cats and dogs. In these homes, toy purchasing has gone from 57 percent of households buying toys in 2011 to 67 percent of households in 2016.  

Pet humanization and “pets as family” trends play pivotal roles in growth within the toy industry. For instance, there is an extremely strong tendency for dog owners to use new toys as a way to pamper their pet. In fact, survey data reveal that 88 percent of dog owners agree they enjoy pampering their pet with new toys. Of course, long gone are the days when any old stick or old shoe would do for a toy. Attitudes have shifted significantly over the decades, and now only 36 percent of dog owners say their pet regularly uses household items as toys more than commercial toys, which is great for pet toy manufacturers.

About The Report

Dog and Cat Toys: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities provides an in-depth analysis of dog and cat toy sales through all channels in the U.S. market, focusing on the key categories of toys driving the market and highlighting sales trends. The report covers sales of chew, plush, rubber, fetch, tug, and puzzle toys, as well as cat scratchers and cat stands, discussing the top marketers in each category. All information and analyses in the report is highly accessible, presented in concise text and easy-to-read and practical charts, tables, and graphs.

View additional information about Dog and Cat Toys: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities, including purchase options, the abstract, table of contents, and related reports at Packaged Facts’ website:      

SOURCE Packaged Facts

Tipping culture grows uncomfortable, greedy


Ericka Prince frequents a snow cone stand in Irving with her husband and children. The ice-cold strawberry, lime, and rainbow treats, however, do little to cool off the heated exchange she has with the cashier who asks if she wants to include a tip. Not sure of whether it’s customary to do so, she sought advice from others around the stand.

“I don’t feel like I need to tip for a snow cone, but often I do because it’s awkward,” Ericka said.

Ericka and her husband, Philip, join a growing number of people frustrated at what they feel are abusive tipping practices.

“We make sure we’re doing what the norm is in society,” Philip said. “We tip our masseuse, we tip our beautician, we tip our hair dressers, and we tip our servers here. If I had to pick from this point forward, I would say I do not want tipping to exist.”

Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life,” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas that specializes in corporate etiquette training, said what is happening now among a lot of businesses is “tip-shaming”.

“What happens is people feel uncomfortable,” Gosstman said. “They say, ‘I don’t want to tip nothing, because then I feel uncomfortable.’ Then what they do is tip too much and walk away uncomfortable or unhappy.”

The annual tradition of tipping doormen, mail carriers, maids, nannies, and others originated in the 1700s when young newspaper delivery boys got in the habit of asking subscribers for gratuities on Christmas or New Year’s Day. The practice was later adopted by other local service people. In recent years, companies have begun taking advantage of the practice, including a decision by Marriott International to start placing tip envelopes in its hotel rooms. This practice of aggressively prompting customers for tips, Gottsman said, only ends up hurting businesses and customers.

“You end up losing customers that way, because they don’t want to go back and have that uncomfortable feeling,” she said.

Jo Ann Goin, founder of Glory House Catering Receptions Bistro on Main Street, agrees tipping practices have gotten out of hand.

“Most of us tip somebody, because we think we’re supposed to and then we adjust the amount of that based on how impressed we were,” Goin said. “But it’s getting abused because growing up it was only restaurants and now everywhere we go, we’re wondering if we’re expected to be tipping or not.”

Goin, who has been working at restaurants since she was in high school, said that unless circumstances are horrible, you should always tip a minimum of 20 percent.

“If a server is totally in the weeds, which is a term of being so far behind you can’t catch up because you’re so busy and you have too many tables, that’s one thing. The restaurant’s short staffed and you’re overwhelmed, that’s not their fault. But if they’re lazy and don’t care, that’s something else.”

Gottsman said the standard practice is actually closer to 15 to 20 percent and there is never a situation to tip under 10 percent.

“It’s difficult to say the food wasn’t good because that’s a kitchen issue and that’s not your server’s issue,” Gottsman said. “Let’s say you have a bad experience, you should leave 10 percent and talk to the general manager because oftentimes in restaurants, servers split their tips with others.”

Some residents believe that anything over 10 percent is excessive.

“I give 10 percent,” said a customer at Di Rosani’s, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. “I can’t figure out why I would give anybody more than what I give Jesus.” In one particularly bad instance of service, the same customer left a tip in a glass of ice water.

Philip and Ericka feel 15 to 20 percent is an acceptable range, but the problem with a set percentage is it implies the more expensive the product or meal, the better the service.

“We had a $100 meal, and I gave this person $15,” Philip said. “They didn’t do any more for me than the place down the street where I got a $30 meal did, and I only gave him 15 percent of $30.”

Philip grew up with a family that owned a restaurant and worked there as a waiter until he graduated college. Now, he owns a business and does not accept tips.

“It’s in my nature to provide good customer service, a tip doesn’t change the way I provide service for that person,” Philip said. “Managing other people, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is very stressful and labor intensive, and it’s hard work. The last thing I want to do is be judging somebody’s work when I’m not at work.”

The average tip rate seems to be rising. According to a PayScale study, the median tip is at 19.5 percent and a 20 percent tip, once considered generous, is now about average.

“The way it stands now, if you don’t tip, the person on the other end doesn’t necessarily take that and say they didn’t do a good job, they take it and say, ‘Oh this person’s a bad tipper,’” Philip said. His solution is a scale of one to ten on each table with a suggested percentage associated with the scale. That way, the server has a visible measure of their performance.

“That would reflect responsibility back on the service provider,” he said. “Now it becomes about the server as opposed to me the tipper.”

Shifting the emphasis to the server, Goin said, can have an impact beyond a restaurant.

“I remember giving a girl a $100 tip for a $30 lunch, because I just felt like I wanted to bless this girl,” Goin said. “If I was in college and somebody tipped me $100, I would have remembered that for the rest of my life.”

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