School board seeks law change as extra activities slashed

School board seeks law change as extra activities slashed

SMITHFIELD – Students may be asked but not mandated to pay for field trips and advanced placement testing, said the Smithfield School Committee in a resolution sent to the state.

The resolution passed by the School Committee last week asks that the following additional line be added to state law: “This prohibition does not apply to school-sponsored field trips and AP/specialized exams in which parents can be asked for funding, as long as the district provides some (funding) support to student(s) whose family cannot afford the cost of the trip or exam.”

In April, former Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said that school trips may only be funded through budgeting instructional programs where all students have the same ability to attend, as well as fundraising to supplement district budgeted funds without mandated goals. He added that students may only be charged for a trip if it is not organized using district resources or funded staff time.

According to Smithfield’s resolution, signed by School Committee Chairwoman Rose Marie Cipriano, the state’s ruling has had the unintended consequences of severely reducing, if not eliminating, extracurricular opportunities.

“In essence, this means that once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for students, such as band or choral trips, national competitions, study tours of major cities and historical sites, and other important programs will be eliminated from public schools …” the resolution states.

The resolution adds that districts can’t afford the costs of fully funding enrichment activities.

Smithfield’s current policies are in keeping with state law, said Supt. Judy Paolucci on Tuesday. The district is accepting donations, she said, but had to end many of its big-ticket school trips this year. Donations are covering many of the smaller trips.

Paolucci said the state’s current wording could prevent the district from charging students for AP testing fees as well. She said the district under current policy pays the testing fees for students who can’t afford it, and charges those who can pay.

“This is a well-established practice and has served us well. We are concerned that the new guidance from RIDE suggests that we should not be charging at all,” Paolucci said.

She estimated that the change from not charging any AP testing fees will cost the district $14,000.

Paolucci said the district will talk more about the field trip and AP testing funding during budget season.

“If we spend $14,000 on these fees, we are taking away from other programs in the district,” Paolucci said.

She said the district understands the potential positive financial impact AP classes can have in the long run, often saving students from being charged for the courses in college.

“Students in Rhode Island and across the world recognize this course and exam and the kids can get a semester free. They get (college) credit for the course taken,” Cipriano added.

She said she hopes the current practice continues.

“I hope they reconsider that part of the law,” Paolucci said.