School districts footing the bill for field trips - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

School districts footing the bill for field trips

Dubuque County (KWWL) -- The Iowa Department of Education recently ruled the Ames school district must pay for costs associated with field trips. Because of that ruling, other districts are working to comply.

The state's ruling says schools can't make students and parents pay for costs associated with field trips. Right now, that only applies to Ames schools, but Dubuque Community Schools are looking new ways to foot the bill and keep field trips in the curriculum. This ruling only applies to instructional field trips, not to outside activities, like a weekend band or choir trip.

Keisha Wolter's daughter Skyla is in kindergarten and has already been on one trip, and paying for the next 12 and a half years of trips is a concern.

"It is pretty affordable, but it is still an expense. Sometimes it's unexpected or last minute," Wolter's daughter said.

Right now, Dubuque schools often use budgeted money, parent volunteer drivers, and PTA money for trips; any other cost often goes to parents. Many families feel forced to come up with the money.

"They kind of make you feel that way a little bit because you don't want them to not be able to go, but at the same time, you've always got to come up with the money for them to go, so it makes it difficult sometimes," Wolter said.

"They pretty much have to go, and if they go, you pay. You don't get a break on that kind of stuff," said Debbie Kreiss, a mother of five who said she just recently paid around $50 for her son's field trip.

With the new state decision, the district is looking for ways to foot the bill. Some community businesses have already offered to help with the cost. But don't look for changes just yet, for the next semester the district is keeping field trip policies the same.

All principals have submitted lists of typical field trips and how those trips are funded to a committee that will make a recommendation to the school board about securing needed funding. The committee is expected to make a report to the school board by winter break. Superintendent John Burgart said he's already asked schools to cut more expensive trips, like a $1,000 trip to Florida that high school marine biology students would normally take.

The Western Dubuque Community School District is shelling out $30,000 to refund parents for transportation costs. As a result of the new decision, the school board will be issuing refunds to parents who paid transportation fees for this school year in November. The district charged parents a transportation fee to cover traveling to extracurriculars, like sports. Superintendent Jeff Corkery said the fees have been charged for years and vary by activity. 

Corkery said they were notified of the ruling in early August: too late to change the budget or change fees.  The district usually depends on transportation fees paid by students for $100,000 of the budget.  This school year, they are finding the money from various sources within the budget and savings accounts.  Next year, Corkery said the district will be able to factor in the lost fees for the budget. 

Corkery said the district does not agree with the department's ruling. The Ames district is planning to appeal the ruling, and Corkery said Western Dubuque will wait to see what happens. Western Dubuque's attorney is looking into the ruling to see if certain fees might still be applied to help cover extracurricular costs.

Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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