School Committee Members Look to Guide Field Trip Legislation

by | Jan 24, 2020

Above: A school field trip to Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in North Kingstown.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Two School Committee members Tuesday night asked their colleagues if they could represent the School Committee in  offering to assist state lawmakers writing bills dealing with field trip funding and parent fees.

So far, two House bills have been introduced in the General Assembly that attempt to clarify field trip funding and the Senate is expected to introduce its own bills. These come in response to former RIDE Commissioner Ken Wager’s advisory opinion last year saying no parent fees are allowed for school-sponsored trips and the confusion in school districts across the state that followed. 

East Greenwich School Committee, however, was in a better place than most to tackle the challenges of the new opinion. That’s because the opinion was the result of a question put forward to RIDE by the School Committee itself, asking whether or not parent fees were allowed, after years of internal debate.

While the district didn’t exactly hit the ground running last September with new procedures regarding field trip funding, the School Committee did establish policies last summer that did not rely on parent fees and the panel strongly rejected suggestions that the advisory would put an end to field trips. 

So, when the General Assembly bills appeared, Committee members Anne Musella and Alyson Powell, both members of the policy subcommittee that had been tasked with addressing these same issues, said it was impossible not to think they could help eliminate what they called ambiguity in the bills. 

“There are some issues and unintended consequences of both of these [bills],” said Powell Tuesday night. “We would be remiss if we didn’t try to have discussions with our legislators. What we’re asking is if this body would agree to allow us to work formally with some of these legislators so that whatever bills do get passed will be in the best interest of everyone.”

“The bills are well intended but imprecise,” Musella said. “Some of the bills seem to add ambiguity rather than resolve it.”

Musella added that it “seems like such a waste” not to get involved in the process after all the work the School Committee has done on the issue.

While they both acknowledged they could lobby as individual citizens, they said they thought their efforts could carry more weight if they were speaking for the committee.

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said she was appreciative of their initiative. The committee held off any formal action, but Mark said they will discuss how to move forward at the next meeting. That could include a resolution that sets forth the committee’s position as well as the committee’s blessing on Powell and Musella to act on their behalf.

The School Committee’s next meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 4.

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