Field Trip Fundraising Off to Slow Start

by | Sep 3, 2019

Above: School Committeewoman Alyson Powell weighs in on field trip fundraising efforts.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The school year has begun, with its myriad forms, signup sheets and appeals for money. Not among them, so far anyway, is a request from the district for donations to help offset the cost of field trips. 

The School Committee ruled last year, following a dictate from the state, that parent fees for field trips were no longer acceptable. But with budget money tight, the hope was that parents used to paying $20 dollars here, $35 dollars there, might donate that money instead in a lump sum at the beginning of the year so that field trips could continue unchanged.

The new school year has started, however, and there’s been nothing from the district about donations for field trips. 

School Committeewomen Anne Musella and Alyson Powell, asked about this at the panel’s meeting Tuesday. 

“In terms of the mechanics, we understood we didn’t want the PTGs to bear all the burden of fundraising, nor did we want that for teachers,” said Musella, who shepherded the field trip policy through the policy subcommittee last spring. “We thought parents could just write a check…. I have not seen any communication saying, by the way, you can make out a check to offset fundraising costs.”

She added, “We have realized our goal but it could fail on implementation. We don’t want to take opportunities away. We want to increase opportunities.”

Supt. Victor Mercurio said he’d assumed that work would be undertaken by the PTG or whatever group was organizing a trip. 

If not the PTG or other group, he asked, “Who would do that?”

“I’m surprised to hear that question because that question was never raised” during last year’s policy discussions, Musella said. “That is a question that should have arisen months ago.”

“I apologize if I misunderstood,” said Mercurio. “It’s my error and I’ll correct it.”

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek said he envisioned each principal sending home a letter that talked about the policy change and outlined how a parent could contribute.

“The first year could be rough but I think it will work it’s way out,” he said.

Parent Denise Lopez said she thought the message to parents should go out as soon as possible and let parents know where their donations are going.

Mercurio said he would talk to the building administrators about sending a letter to parents. Musella and Powell said they would help, as did Greg Booth, the district’s director of operations, administration and finance.

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Anne Musella
Anne Musella
September 4, 2019 1:58 pm

I write to add facts the article omits. After I requested at two separate School Committee meetings (in July and August) that the School Committee be provided an update on implementation of the Field Trip, Fundraising, and Student Activity Accounts policies (the “suite” of field trip-related policies), we received an update at last night’s meeting from our superintendent.

As I pointed out last night, the Policy Committee is comprised of school committee members, one community member, our superintendent, and two additional administrators. The purpose of this composition (as discussed last night) is to ensure collaboration with district and school administrators in crafting policy that adequately contemplates existing and potential practices, and to identify potential issues that could arise upon implementation.

Starting in March 2019, the new Field Trip Policy was discussed in depth at six Policy Committee meetings, at least three School Committee meetings, including a special workshop held to discuss the Field Trip, Fundraising, and Student Activity Accounts policies, and one meeting of the Superintendent’s Administrative Council that I attended at the suggestion of the School Committee Chair. Each time the Field Trip Policy was discussed, there was by necessity a reference to fundraising mechanics. The revised Fundraising Policy and the related Student Activity Accounts Policy were discussed at at least two Policy Committee meetings, and three School Committee meetings. All this in addition to additional, non-public meetings and/or conversations with various administrators, the PTG presidents, legal counsel, and our district finance office. (In fact, this discussion has been ongoing within the district for over three years.)

In short, the process involved extensive collaboration with stakeholders at all levels (including community members). Yet the article cherry-picks elements of last night’s discussion, and characterizes my feedback in particular (“We thought parents could write a check”!) as naïve, uninformed, and ill-prepared. In fact, we CAN ‘just write a check.’ But, as I reiterated numerous times at the many meetings I cite above, we need our finance and administrative teams to confirm and then communicate: to whom do we write that check; where do we send it; and how will our finance office ensure that donations intended for a specific purpose are spent precisely as intended. For those who have been following along, this is not complicated.

School Committee members are instructed and reminded often by our legal counsel and each other that our statutory role is at the policy level – that we are not to drive the operations of the school district. (Some exceptions have been made at the subcommittee level, as with transportation (out of necessity), because ultimately the subcommittees are advisory in nature only.)

Certainly I and (I imagine) other Policy Committee members will continue to make ourselves available as a resource in the development of procedure that comports with policy, and in crafting communications in that regard. I understand that we are undertaking a significant change in district procedure, and I will continue to work diligently to ensure that the policies achieve the intended purpose – to afford the most opportunity to the greatest number of students.

As we move forward, however, we must not turn a blind eye to any potential shortcomings in administration or operations, so that we can ensure that all departments within our district are given optimal and appropriate support.

Anne Musella
Member, East Greenwich School Committee
Chair, Policy Committee


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