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TH board regroups, mulls pros and cons of DC trip


CRARYVILLE–The Taconic Hills Board of Education held its annual reorganizational meeting last week and, during the regular meeting that followed, discussed the possibility of rescheduling the annual senior trip.

After new board member Robert Piper was administered the Oath of Faithful Performance, the board reelected Kevin Maisenbacher president of the board and Clifford Campbell vice president for the 2013-2014 school year. The board also approved the appointments of Melissa Layman as district clerk, Linda Miller as district treasurer, and Ruth Wittlinger as tax collector.

School psychologist Linda Petrillo was appointed chairperson of the Committee on Special Education, Committee on Preschool Education, Manifestation Team Committee, and the 504 Committee.

The board also approved a new daily rate of $120 for substitutes who are retired, certified teachers. Current substitutes receive a daily rate of $110 if they are certified, $85 if not certified. Superintendent Dr. Neil Howard said that the increase for retired teachers is to “entice them to be here as substitutes.”

Dr. Howard said that this is an effort to save money in response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) , or Obamacare, which he said would require the school to offer health insurance to any employee who works more than 30 hours a week.

“The idea behind [the rate change] is that we know that retired teachers already get healthcare, so we would not have to budget for them to have healthcare,” said Dr. Howard. “We want to entice them so we don’t have to budget for benefits for people who may be eligible for them now through Obamacare.”

Mr. Maisenbacher, the only dissenting vote on the matter, said he didn’t see how the rate increase for retired teachers to be substitutes would avoid the effects of the healthcare act.

During the regular meeting that followed, Junior/Senior High School Principal Marie Digirolamo presented a proposal to the board to reschedule the annual senior trip. The trip to Washington, D.C., is normally held in June, resulting in teachers and students missing three days of scheduled class-time. Ms. Digirolamo suggested the trip be moved to the end of March, during a three-day weekend, so no school-time is missed.

“We all agree on is that it’s an educational benefit to the students academically and socially, and we want to see it stay,” she said.

But she raised concerns about the trip in addition to the school days missed. Ms. Digirolamo said there are two types of trips: extracurricular and field trips. An extracurricular trip is a voluntary trip held after school or on a non-school day and can be paid for by the students. A field trip, on the other hand, is held during a school day, must be offered to all students and paid for by the district.

“For an academic field trip, students should not pay for any part of the trip,” she said.

The annual senior trip, normally held during school days in June, is considered an academic field trip and offered to all seniors paid for by the district. Moving the trip to a three-day weekend in March would change the excursion to an extracurricular trip. The trip proposed for next year would begin Friday, March 21, a Superintendent’s Conference Day, when classes will not be in session.

Mr. Piper said things were different in the past, when schools asked for money from parents to help fund field trips.

“We’re not allowed to do that anymore,” responded district Business Manager Cybil Howard.

Mr. Maisenbacher said if the date of the trip remains in June, then there would be two options: raise money for every senior to go or “the school district picks up the tab for every single kid.” Otherwise, the trip would need to be moved so it qualifies as extracurricular, not a field trip.

Ms. Digirolamo said the cost for the trip is about $610 per student. Dr. Howard said there will be about 90 seniors next year.

Ms. Digirolamo said that changing the trip to March would be beneficial academically, since teachers and students would no longer have to miss the class-time in June. And she said that while the seniors are on the trip, attendance levels drop in the other high school grades, adding that there are new mandates governing the way teachers track attendance.

Mr. Piper said he believes missing three days at the end of the senior year should not be that big a deal

Board member Christine Perry agreed, expressing frustration with regulations. “I think the kids deserve three days at the end of June,” said Ms. Perry. “It makes me sick that we have to be so over-regulated and worry about what every auditor says about us.”

But Dr. Howard said it’s also an issue of liability. If the trip is held in June and Regents classes are missed, parents of struggling students may want to know why.

“Just be aware that those parents have rights too and their children have rights,” he said. “If you violate those rights, you’ll open up the potential for liability.”



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