Board ponders policy on class vs. club trips

The sign at the entrance to Niskayuna High School is pictured. Gazette file photoThe sign at the entrance to Niskayuna High School is pictured. Gazette file photo
By Zachary Matson
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — School officials are wrestling with whether some of the district’s school-sponsored trips are too expensive or too extracurricular to justify school sponsorship.

At least some trips traditionally considered part of the school curriculum have already been shifted to become club-sponsored trips, distancing them from the classroom and establishing a new structure to organize certain trips. And district administrators are working to develop a clear policy about when trips can receive school sponsorship and when they should be part of a club — a distinction that hinges on the academic nature of the trip and whether the cost places an unfair burden on students and families.

The cost of the trips, whether school-sponsored or club-sponsored, is borne by students who raise or contribute money, not the school district. And students are not made to participate.

Still, some board members are concerned about sponsoring pricey trips or trips that are not closely tied to curriculum.

“We are trying to distinguish between what are really curricular trips and what are extracurricular trips and how to best fund them,” Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said in an interview on Sept. 7.

As the district reconsiders how it manages student trips, some long-running school trips are facing new scrutiny. An annual trip to Disney World in Orlando available to business students, for instance, may be ripe for shifting to a club trip. A request to the school board in March to approve a pricey London trip for biology students was delayed before the trip was ultimately approved under club, rather than school, sponsorship. An eighth-grade trip to Boston is now organized by the student class officers.

“Probably a clear line doesn’t exist, and we will have a bit of a struggle with those distinctions and live with a little bit of ambiguity,” Tangorra said.

School board members have raised concerns about the costs of some school trips, as well as whether some school-sponsored trips were truly filling a curricular role. The London trip, which included stops at sites of historic and modern scientific importance, raised eyebrows among board members with the trip agenda and its price tag in the thousands of dollars.

“It’s a stretch to link this trip to education,” board member Howard Schlossberg said when the trip proposal was first considered in March. It was noted at the meeting that a lot of advanced science is occurring in the Niskayuna area.

The board also discussed the trip’s high cost: $3,300 per student.

“It’s eye-catching,” Tangorra said at the time.

On Sept. 4, the board again discussed school-sponsored trips and what deserves the stamp of an official classroom activity. (If students do not participate in a class-sponsored trip, they complete a parallel project.) Looking for more direction from school board members, Tangorra asked whether there was a cost they felt was too high to justify school support.

“Is there a level that the board is comfortable with, is it $200, is it $100?” Tangorra asked the board at the last meeting. “I’m sure it’s not $3,300. Once we are asking folks to go on a school-sponsored event and they are going to pay $3,000, that’s outside of what really should be expected.”

Board members, though, resisted setting a clear threshold based on cost along, emphasizing the importance of how closely tied to academics a particular trip actually is.

“It’s not just about the money, it’s about forcing something to fit as curricular that’s not really curricular,” board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith said.

“I don’t think there is a bright line,” board President Jack Calareso said. “It really does depend on how much it’s tied to the curriculum.”