Teachers seek alternatives after Columbia School Board boots field trip budget

Friday, July 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Schools might need to get creative when planning field trips this year after the Columbia School Board cut all its funding for elementary and middle school field trips last month.

At its June 18 meeting, the School Board approved a budget that eliminated the $6,000 for middle school field trips and the $16,121 for elementary field trips. These cuts represent about 0.5 percent of the nearly $4.4 million reduced from this year's budget.

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the decision to cut the field trip budget was made after principals from each school received input from teachers.

"We tried to come up with cuts that would have a minimal affect on day-to-day classroom instruction," he said.

Jensen said they looked at everything from field trips to office supplies to faculty cuts.

Sarah Messer, whose son will begin kindergarten at Rock Bridge Elementary in the fall, said she thinks the field trips were a wise cut compared to faculty cuts. Still, Messer said she considers field trips significant to a child's development.

"I think that the out-of-classroom learning experiences are just as important as the in-classroom ones," she said.

Messer added that her son especially remembers his preschool field trips to the Missouri Humane Society and food bank.

"I think, especially for younger kids, when seeing is important to learning, field trips are very important," she said.

Michelle Pruitt, a School Board member, said she hopes to explore alternative funding options with the board and the elementary and middle school superintendents. If possible, she would like to amend the budget to bring field trip funding back.

Pruitt said she didn't want to over-emphasize the decision to cut the field trip funding when the district is dealing with bigger issues, such as teachers' salaries.

"It just seems like it was a really small cut that we made and, if we could get it back, it would really make a difference to the elementary and middle school students," Pruitt said.

The cut won't prohibit schools from planning field trips, Jensen said. Classes or groups will now have to find alternative funding sources, such as the PTA that already sponsors some trips.

Tom Rose, School Board vice president, said he plans to suggest the School Board make greater use of sponsored trips.

Even with sponsorship, there will definitely be a reduction in what the district can do for field trips, Rose said.

The reduction will affect some schools differently than others. According to Lee Elementary School's Web site, students "attend local performances and visit museums and galleries."

While some field trips will be affected by the cut, many of the locations that students visit are within walking distance of the school, said Karen Burger, principal of Lee Elementary.

Although she said the cut is unfortunate, Burger said she realizes the district looked for what was in the students' best interest.

"I know the teachers in the district will make the best of it and provide these opportunities in other ways," Burger said.

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