LONG ISLAND, N.Y. – Long Island taxpayers are fuming after learning they spent over $150,000 to send seniors from Shoreham-Wading River High School on an “educational” trip to Disney World.
The senior trip to Disney World is a school tradition dating back to the 1990s, but in prior years students footed most of the bill, with the district shelling out less than $10,000 to help them out. Last year, about one in three seniors participated, Newsday reports.
But school officials re-labeled the trip as an “educational field trip” and used taxpayer funds to cover nearly the entire tab, including airfare and hotel rooms for the four-day trek to the Orlando theme park, resulting in about 80 percent of the 227 seniors at Shoreham-Wading River participating in the trip.
The bill: nearly $153,000.
District officials are now scrambling to appease angry taxpayers tasked with voting on the district’s proposed budget for next year in less than a month.
“It’s a huge stretch to think that the Florida trip, where some of the kids went to Epcot (international theme park), is educational,” local resident Robert Badalian said at the April 5 board meeting. “I don’t deny that the kids have the opportunity to go, but to think that that is an educational trip – that taxpayers are funding almost its entirety this past year – is just outrageous.”
“To be funded by the school or by the school district is not teaching them very much at all,” taxpayer Melissa Frey told WABC. “They should be taught to raise the money for themselves if they want to value their trip at all.”
Superintendent Neil Lederer seems to be getting the message.
“Look, it’s a stretch. It’s a stretch,” he said. “But I’ve worked with the board of education over the last three to four months to modify that position. It’s not going to be the case going forward. That’s the important thing – that people realize that the budget that they will vote on will not cover trips to that extent. They will only cover the educational aspects of the trip.”
The school board approved the 2017 expense for the senior trip based on Lederer recommendation after consulting with the district attorney last summer, Newsday reports.
About $56,000 of the funding came from an employee benefits account to cover the costs, Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance. Last year, students raised funds and paid about $930 each for the trip, but the taxpayer funding reduced that cost to $200 per student for 2017.
Lederer told students this year that they must be prepared to explain the educational components of the March 1-4 trip upon their return, and several attempted to link aspects of the trip to the district’s curriculum during a PowerPoint presentation at the April 5 board meeting.
Student Robert Joannou told those in attendance that he learned about culture and responsibility during the vacation.
“It’s just our first time being on our own – really without our parents – budgeting time, money, transportation, being responsible,” he said. “It made me want to learn more about the world and the diverse cultures that each countries (represented in the parks) had within.”
Regardless, many parents weren’t buying it.
“For a cultural experience, there are much better, closer alternatives, such as the city, Chinatown, many of the museums that it has to offer,” resident George Roberts said.
“No, just no,” another resident told WABC. “I would find something other than Disney for education…I think someone may have dropped the ball on this one.”
District officials issued a prepared statement about the situation that attempted to justify the $153,000 trip, but also promised “the District has allotted significantly less funding in the 2017-18 budget for school sponsored trips.
“Although we have, and will continue to financially support these excursions, funding will only support the educational components of the trip, and may not include logistical planning such as food, transportation and lodging,” the statement read, according to News 12.
Lederer is also taking personal responsibility for the excessive spending.
“If you’re going to look at anybody for making poor judgment, in going forward with the present, the trip that occurred this year, in this academic year, then it would be me,” he told residents at the board meeting. “As superintendent, I’m responsible for all decisions.”