EAST GREENWICH—The school committee revealed Tuesday that it may not have a workable instrument for raising private funds for field trips until January 2020, and thus the district may lose some extracurricular trips or activities throughout the year. The admission came after local resident Tara Wood questioned the field trip policy’s first line, which states that the committee will encourage meaningful trips for student development.
“Does this really hold true?” Wood asked the committee. “In what ways is the school committee encouraging activities that positively impact the district’s educational programs?”
“The new policy, which was in rigorous discussion for three years, disallows fees to be charged for participation in field trips,” Wood said. “However, the policy was knowingly passed without any monetary line item allocation for any school activity in the academic year of 2019-2020.”
Wood cited an October edition of The Pendulum that reported that four field trips had been taken by this time last year compared to just one this year, and she argued that the field trip policy enacted by the committee has thus far failed to muster to its stated purpose and speculated that field trip opportunities may be lost because of it.
“The school committee repeatedly, clearly stated that it was not their intent to implement a policy that would take away field trip opportunities,” Wood said. “However, if families cannot be charged fees any longer, and there’s no money in the budget to cover the cost of field trips, then it is incumbent upon the school committee to ensure we understand how field trips will be funded this academic year. It is November and the community really does not have the most basic understanding of how a teacher or group of teachers go about requesting money for a field trip.”
“I think we can all agree,” Wood said, “that at this point the implementation of this public and important policy is failing.”
Wood’s comments precipitated the admission of the committee that, while parent-teacher groups and other established means of funding had maintained some existing trips scheduled for the district’s schools, the process of crafting a means of independently raising funds for other trips has thus far not materialized.
“Trying to find funds for field trips, it’s nearly impossible,” said district director of finance Greg Booth. “Right now, [finding the fund] is going to be very difficult. And I know that that probably doesn’t sit well.”
The district’s inability to find funding for trips that it is encouraging may not be resolved until January, as the committee needs time to create better means of generating private donations for extracurriculars and will fare better with knowledge of the first-quarter financial report. A key issue affecting the policy currently is that the policy was passed after the adoption of the 2019-2020 budget, thus eliminating the traditional way of funding field trips without having a budgeted amount of finances to offset the associated costs of the move.
“There’s clearly some more work that needs to be done,” said school committee chair Carolyn Mark.
Mark’s hope for a solution was no consolation for other members of the committee, however, and fellow committee member Alyson Powell raised an issue with leaving the implementation of the policy unaddressed any longer.
“We’ve said now in an open meeting that we won’t have any good idea about numbers until January,” Powell said. “And I just think that’s not going to be acceptable to the community.”
“We are heading into the holidays now and I feel that if we say we won’t even have any clue until January, that’s not where we want to go,” Powell said. “We have to do better than that.”
“It seems to me right now that the school committee is unable to identify funds to transfer to a field trip account or allocate funds,” Wood said. “It also sounds like November first was the first communication going out to teachers saying ‘we support field trips, it’s business as usual, put in your request.’ To me, that sounds really late.”
Powell pushed the committee to take up the issue in earnest at the committee’s next meeting later this month and urged her fellows not to wait until January. For all involved, however, the stakes of their potential decisions on how to move forward with the field trip policy and its corollary funding mechanisms were clear.
“We have the opportunity to allocate funds or we have the opportunity to suspend the field trip policy until next year,” Musella said. “Those are our two options. Otherwise, it will fail.”