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PTOs asked to shoulder Franklin Regional symphony-trip costs

Franklin Regional officials have asked the district's elementary Parent Teacher Organizations to pay the cost of busing and substitute teachers so second-graders can go on a field trip to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The trip, which is part of the music curriculum, would include taking each school's music teacher in addition to the second-grade teachers as chaperones. The substitute music teacher, who would receive a $110 payment, would fill in for the music teacher's other classes that day.

"All district-sponsored field trips were eliminated this year," said Shelley Shaneyfelt, director of instructional services and public relations for the district. "This is purely budgetary."

This is not the first time the PTO groups have paid for busing, Shaneyfelt said. With the cost of gas rising, Shaneyfelt said, the district couldn't budget for busing for the trip.

At Heritage Elementary, the trip -- including a substitute, busing and a luncheon for the children -- would cost the group about $1,000, said Beth Kindelberger, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization. The group is fine with paying for the trip -- but members aren't sure they want to pay for a substitute teacher.

"We're wary of setting a precedent," Kindelberger said. "We need to be cautious about taking on expenses the district used to pay."

It's a tough year financially for the district. Officials considered cutting several programs in the spring and raised the property tax rate for the ninth consecutive year. Already, administrators anticipate being more than $1 million short for the 2012-13 budget.

At Heritage and Newlonsburg elementary schools, the trip is part of the school's "manners" lesson, in which second-graders attend a luncheon to practice their manners after the symphony visit. The PTOs pay for the luncheon, officials said. That cost plays a part in the decision about whether to pay for the substitute, Kindelberger said.

The symphony trip doesn't include a luncheon for students at Sloan, said Michelle McFall, president of the Sloan PTO. There, the PTO would pay $464 for the trip.

The Sloan group has been soliciting input from parents for several weeks -- initial reactions at a PTO meeting earlier this month were favorable toward paying for the trip. McFall said the group will make a final decision early next month.

"We are willing to look at the changing climate of education," McFall said.

"We will make a decision based on any concerns and collaboration from our membership."

Statewide problem

Educators across the state are struggling to keep programs intact right now, said Luanne Matta, executive director of the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. District officials have found themselves in a quandary after state officials slashed funding for education this school year.

"We have to really re-evaluate what we do on a regular basis," Matta said. "We need to find ways to get the most benefit out of what money we do have."

Matta declined to comment on how individual districts are handling the financial situation, but she said keeping students engaged and educated is what is most important right now.

"Each district has to look at creative ways to continue programming as they know it," Matta said. "It's about finding the best ways we can to educate the students we have with the funds we do have. How do we go about making sure that stays consistent is the question."

For Franklin Regional, having the PTO pay for a substitute teacher could be one option. Shaneyfelt said district officials will consider asking PTOs to pay for substitute teachers only on a case-by-case basis for field trips.

"It would not be reasonable to ask them to pay, for instance, for a substitute in the event of an illness," Shaneyfelt said. "In this case, this is not an essential trip. That's where the line is being drawn. It's an extra set of hands (on the trip.)"

PTO officials still worry about what the situation could mean for their organizations. Kindelberger said absorbing the cost of a substitute teacher blurs the lines of what a PTO's role is.

"The main role of a PTO is to inform parents about what is happening in the district," Kindelberger said. "It says in our bylaws that we may not interfere with district policy."

The trip is scheduled for this spring.

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