BOE approves overseas trip; mulls association expense

Published Nov 18, 2017 at 4:00pm

A student travel club’s trip to Europe was approved with one opposing vote, while an approximately $11,000 membership in a statewide association was debated, in a resumption of prior Board of Education topics.

The items were addressed Wednesday night by the board.

• The board voted 6-1 to approve a Rome Free Academy Travel Club field trip to Italy and Greece from April 20-30 in 2018 under the direction of RFA teachers Joanne Ambrose and Cynthia Arthur.

Voting against it was board member Karen Fontana. Absent were members Lawrence Posselt and Timothy Safin.

Fontana said after the meeting that the reason for her vote was “the same as last year.” Last February during the 2016-17 school year, she cast the only opposing vote in the board’s 6-1 approval for the travel club’s trip last April to Scotland, England and Paris.

In the current global situation, Fontana said after Wednesday’s meeting, “I don’t think we should be sending kids overseas....”

Prior to the board vote, member John Leonard asked whether the school district’s policy had changed for students’ “out-of-country” trips. District Superintendent Peter C. Blake said there is an additional legal permission form in addition to general permission, later adding that for risks associated with overseas travel there is a waiver of the district’s liability.

The forms remind parents that all travel can be dangerous, and remind them of world situations before they give permission for such trips, said board President Paul Fitzpatrick.

A range of about 20 or so students are going on the RFA Travel Club field trip in April, Fitzpatrick added Friday.

• The board at its next regular meeting will continue Wednesday’s discussion of whether to renew annual membership in the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), at a cost of about $11,670 that Blake said is up $219 from the prior year.

Some board members questioned whether the membership is necessary, but others cited various benefits. The board has previously had differing opinions as well. In 2015, for example, the board deadlocked in a 3-3 vote on the annual membership before approving it a few weeks later in a 5-2 vote.

Fitzpatrick said he supports NYSSBA membership for the association’s professional development assistance for the board, plus its lobbying for various educational issues on behalf of all school districts.

Leonard, however, said board members could still pay separately for professional development services as needed rather than an overall fee, adding that members have had little participation.

He also said the association’s overall lobbying can still benefit Rome without the district having to pay a “disproportionate share” in a higher membership fee compared to smaller districts.

But board member Stephen Hampe countered that to “try to ride the coattails of other districts” who paid fees, including for lobbying efforts, “just seems cheap.” He sees NYSSBA membership as a “valuable service.”

Board Vice President Paul Hagerty cited various education-related articles and tips available through the membership.

Leonard, though, asked how often such materials had helped the board make decisions, and referred to “spending money on somebody to comb newspapers for us” when the board could “google” for such topics and “do it yourself.” It is “crazy to me,” he remarked.

But Fitzpatrick then observed that the district has an approximately $115 million budget overall. He asked whether the district would not be able to spend $11,000 on the school board to “improve our knowledge,” and commented “that’s crazy.”

In 2015, before becoming a board member, Fitzpatrick had encouraged the board to continue the NYSSBA membership. He is a retired Rome district teacher.