At least 84 field trips canceled by Mehlville administration

By Alyson E. Raletz

At least 84 field trips have been canceled in the Mehlville School District due to a recent administrative decision to reduce this year’s expenditures.

After a “significant loss in state revenue this year,” according to a letter sent home to Mehlville students last week signed by each building’s principal, the district is looking to save money by restricting unnecessary transportation expenditures.

The letter states, “One of the cost-reduction strategies currently in place is reducing transportation expenses and expenses for hiring substitute staff members filling in during staff absences for field trips. At each school across the district, principals are reviewing field trips scheduled for April 1 and beyond.”

A letter sent home to Oakville Middle School pupils by Principal Vicki VanLaere stated, “Many of those trips will be canceled in order to reallocate funds toward the core instructional program — textbooks, balanced literacy and other instructional materials. I will be meeting with our staff members and parent organizations to work through this process.”

So far, 84 of 115 scheduled field trips have been canceled.

At least 40 field trips were canceled at schools in the southern areas of the district, while 60 field trips after April 1 had been planned, according to South Area Superintendent Keith Klusmeyer.

At least 44 field trips have been canceled at schools in the northern areas of the district, while 55 field trips after April 1 had been planned, according to Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed.

The remaining field trips are mostly competitions, Reed said, through activities that most likely required non-refundable deposits. The majority of the numerous field trips that have been canceled, Reed said, have a “direct relationship to curriculum, with units they’re studying right now.”

For example, a psychology class was planning on touring a treatment facility, art classes intended on visiting the St. Louis Art Museum, while other classes were requesting educational field trips to the zoo and the Missouri History Museum. A lot of interest has been shown for the Lewis and Clark Exhibit, Reed said, but “Unfortunately, they’ll have to go on the weekend.”

Both Reed and Superintendent Tim Ricker said they had received telephone calls from residents who are displeased with the field trip cancellations. Through misinformation and lack of knowledge about this year’s budget process, Ricker said he understands that parents could be concerned by the administration’s approach.

“This is a change in what we’ve done and anytime you make a change, that upsets people,” Ricker told the Call. “We’re going to have a big-picture approach in the next three months, where this is just one part of it … And if we can save $35,000 to $50,000 off of our overtime and our subs in transportation by taking this one approach — that’s a teacher that we can hire or keep.”

To provide core services to students, Ricker said overtime and substitute costs have to be reduced — both accompany field trips. When teachers leave the classroom to chaperone and lead out-of-school activities, he said, the district has to pay substitutes. Substitute pay is about $85 a day for a teacher.

When bus drivers leave their routes to transport pupils to other locations, the district has to pay additional drivers to cover daily routes or pay overtime. Also, Ricker said the state does not reimburse Mehlville for any miles related to field trips or activities. Consequently, the building principals have reviewed and will continue to review field trips on a case-by-case basis, he said, to avoid those types of transportation costs and save for the district.

“So, what we’ve said is, through this letter, (that) field trips that cause us to make those kinds of expenditures will not be approved. What we’ve told our building principals is they are to make decisions on those field trips … If we have contractual obligations — competitions for students, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), band — If the organization has been fully funded and contracted their transportation, those are approved.”

Despite an organization’s efforts to fund its trip, he said, that does not mean it is in the clear.

“Just because they raise the money, if it kicks it over into that overtime and it costs the district funds, they have to work that out with their building principal. They could take another tact and have that contracted with some other transportation company or things of that nature. So, we’re not telling them they can’t go. We’re saying that anything that kicks it over that costs us to do overtime … and things of that nature so we don’t realize that savings in transportation, we’re not going to approve.”

The quasi-field-trip freeze will not carry into the 2004-2005 year, he said, but new procedures will be in place providing a new structure for teachers, letting them know how many and what types of field trips can be taken so they can plan accordingly.

Another method of reducing transportation expenses, Ricker said, is by consolidating buses that take student-athletes to away events. Coordination with district schools will take place and perhaps the elimination of buses can occur when more than one school is participating in the same tournament, game or event, he said. In the past, cheerleaders and players have ridden on separate buses, whereas now they will ride together, Ricker said.

However, no student-athletes ever will be required to seek their own transportation to games to save the district money, he noted.

The letter sent home to parents last week also stated that building principals would meet with parent organizations to “work through this process.” The letter stated, “Simultaneously, all principals in the Mehlville School District will be working with their own parent organizations and staff members to develop strategies for reallocating those precious dollars raised by the hard work of the students, parents and school communities.”

The parent groups always have provided certain services, materials and supplies for the buildings, Ricker said. Building principals still are going to be contacting them and talking about what those services and supplies are and what would be appropriate.

“We’re still going to provide textbooks. We’re still going to provide supply budgets,” he said. “They aren’t going to be at the level we’ve had in the past … We’re not asking PTOs to fund the core program. But the core program that we have, we may not be doing new adoptions, curriculums … until we can get stabilization of our financial situation …”

The district will offer guidance and suggest how parent organizations spend their money, Ricker said — as they always have — but will not take from organizations funds they have raised.