The Richmond Register

November 12, 2012

Board considers easing review of school trips

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — The Madison County School Board looked at ways Thursday to streamline approval for out-of-state field trips and sports competitions while also ensuring that trip expenses are not a burden to parents or creating problems for students’ academic progress.

For the past several meetings, board chair Mona Isaacs mentioned moving out-of-state trip approval from the action agenda (individual items that must be approved or adopted with a motion) to the consent agenda, which is a list of items distributed to the board members prior to the meeting and approved as a group.

Consent-agenda items may still be discussed individually prior to approval, Isaacs said. The consent agenda generally consists of items such as: “Authorize record of superintendent’s personnel actions” or “approve leaves of absence.”

Isaacs proposed the policy change as an “efficiency measure” to not only save time during a meeting but to spare the inconvenience to teachers, coaches and sponsors who must attend board meetings to present information about a trip, she said.

“I think we all noticed at the beginning of this meeting, we spend 18 minutes and 45 seconds on nine field trips — and that’s a record. We got through them fast today,” Isaacs said at Thursday meeting.

Board member Becky Coyle later estimated that nine trip approvals would have normally taken around 45 minutes to complete.

Isaacs brought the issue up again with three versions of the proposal recommended by a Kentucky School Board Association policy adviser. Several ideas were added to the proposed policy throughout the meeting, and the members eventually agreed on a first reading of the draft. The second reading of the draft will occur during the Dec. 13 meeting.

Of the three proposals, one reflected ideas put forth by board member John Lackey, who has “had troubles with extracurricular fields trips on a number of occasions because … they take away from the focus on academics,” he said.

Lackey’s proposal would allow the board to approve out-of-state trips for co-curricular activities (band competitions, presidential inauguration) on the consent agenda. However, all extracurricular trips (cheerleading, basketball) and international trips of any type would always be included on the action agenda.

After some debate, the newly drafted proposal does not make a distinction between co- and extracurricular activities for placement on either the consent or action agendas, and international trips will remain on the action agenda. But, there are added provisions for all out-of-state trip approval.

For example, trip sponsors must submit an application at least two months in advance. If the trip does not pass the consent agenda during the first board meeting, the sponsor can be present at the following meeting to answer questions.

Lackey said he has a problem with extracurricular trips that require students to miss school.

“With extracurricular activities, rather than co-curricular activities, it does become a statement by the board that we are favoring people being out of school for fun kinds of things,” Lackey said.

Per request, the new policy will require trip sponsors to write “a simple narrative on how students will make up the missed work,” said Superintendent Tommy Floyd.

Board member Chris Hager said a report on student athletes’ grades would be helpful. “From what information I get, our student athletes are some of the best scores we have,” he said.

Member Beth Brock agreed. “They have grade checks on a weekly basis,” she said. “My daughter plays soccer. If they don’t maintain a GPA, they don’t play. So it’s a motivational tool as well.”

Of the nine out-of-state trips on the agenda Thursday, five were extracurricular.

The B. Michael Caudill dance/cheer teams will not miss school for the Smokey Mountain Christmas Championship in Sevierville, Tenn., Nov. 30-Dec. 2, and the Madison Central High School boys’ basketball team will not miss school for an all-expenses-paid tournament in Charleston, W.Va., Dec. 28 and 29.

The first round of regional qualifiers in Sevierville will not require missing school for the Madison Central High School cheerleading team. The same goes for a second regional trip to Cincinnati, if the teams do not qualify in the first one.

However, the “largest high school national competition in the country” in Orlando, Fla., will keep the cheerleaders out of school for two days, said cheerleading coach Karen Feldhaus.

The junior varsity team will defend its title as third-time national champions. The small varsity team will return to a competition where it placed fourth out of 70 teams in its division, the coach said.

“Orlando is our competitive goal all year … This is where they, as young women, are recognized for their efforts as athletes on the competition mat,” Feldhaus said.

When the coach requested permission for the same competition during the Jan. 26 board meeting, Lackey voted against the Orlando trip. The motion passed 3-1 just weeks before the cheerleaders were scheduled to go.

Lackey had received calls, he said, which revealed “it’s a real problem for some of the parents to be able to have their kids on the cheerleading squad. I think the board needs to address the fact that kids who come from less affluent backgrounds can’t afford to be cheerleaders,” he said in January.

During his re-election bid, Lackey campaigned door-to-door, he said. “People expressed dismay about having to send a kid to Orlando or Sevierville or Washington, D.C., … and they hate to say ‘no.’ It’s a real prejudice to their family budgets to have to fund these things.”

He said one constituent had three cheerleaders participating and it cost him nearly $7,000 that year.

“They can go out and sell cookie dough and poinsettias to defray some of the costs, but you’d have to do it (fundraise) all the time,” Lackey said. “I want a robust athletic program. I would love to have had a daughter who was a cheerleader … but there is a point where the board has to monitor these things.”

However, both the Caudill and Central teams came prepared last week to answer the finance question. Both teams had already raised sufficient funds to send all students at no extra cost to parents, the sponsors said.

“I agree with Mr. Lackey, we need to protect our children,” Hager said. “They may not be able to afford these trips, but I see the opposite happening — a lot of the organizers are making sure their children have the funding to go … a lot of these kids would never get that opportunity if not for these trips.”

As a single parent, Isaacs agreed that “trying to send a child on a $500 trip is a huge expense.”

But, travel is a part of education, she said. It would be difficult for her to vote against a trip because she is “very firmly in favor of giving children opportunities to travel.”

After an inquiry from Brock, the panel determined no out-of-state trips had ever been declined in the past.

“(Trip approval) goes through the leadership of our schools, the principals, who I trust, and the superintendent, who I trust — I personally wouldn’t see me denying (a trip) unless there was a cause for safety restrictions or anything of that nature,” Brock said.

Isaacs said her research revealed school boards delegate out-of-state trip approval to their superintendents.

However, Isaacs was “very hesitant to relinquish any responsibility of the board approving out-of-state trips,” she said. “I think it’s important that we know where kids are going and what they’re doing.”

Floyd said the board will never find a trip on the consent agenda that does not have liability specifications, chaperone ratio count, transportation details or fundraising efforts for students who can’t afford to go.

“Any extracurricular trip that is approved by the principal and superintendent is paid for by fundraising or by the individual,” Isaacs stated. “Any school missed is an approved absence that does not affect our district’s ADA (average daily attendance) funding.”

In other business:

During the board comment section, Hager congratulated Mary Renfro, who unseated him in District 4 by 465 votes after the Nov. 6 election.

Hager was appointed to the board in April to replace Doug Whitlock, who stepped down last year.

Renfro was present at Thursday’s meeting and was asked to join the board for a special training session scheduled for Nov. 18.

“It takes a while to really get your head wrapped around what it is we are trying to do. It’s a real learning experience,” Isaacs said of her time on the board.