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SWR plans to pay a portion of Disney trip next year

Shoreham-Wading River School District interim superintendent Neil Lederer announced last Wednesday that his tentative 2017-18 budget allocates approximately $40,000 for the annual senior class trip to Disney World.

This year’s senior class trip, which took place in March and cost about $150,000, was fully funded by the district.

During last Wednesday’s school board meeting, Mr. Lederer said the $40,000 included in next year’s spending plan will cover only aspects of the trip the board deems “educational,” which have yet to be determined. After the meeting, school spokesperson Deirdre Gilligan said in an email that amount will pay for students participating in the park’s “Youth Education Series Program, one day at Epcot and possibly Cirque de Soleil.”

“However, some of these expenses, while budgeted for, could be offset by student fundraising,” she added.

That amount is part of a $74.8 million overall budget for the 2017-18 school year, which the board adopted last Wednesday by a 4-0 vote. School board members Jack Costas and Robert Rose were absent. The budget carries a spending increase of 3 percent, or $2.175 million, and a nearly 4.69 percent hike in next year’s tax levy, which is the allowable limit without piercing the state-mandated cap, according to Glen Arcuri, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

Mr. Lederer’s announcement about the trip funding came after five seniors made a presentation about the educational value of their recent Disney experience. Students had promised to give such a presentation when the school board voted in November to fund this year’s trip.

In the presentation, students said their day at Epcot allowed them to explore numerous cultures, such as Chinese and Moroccan, through food and traditions. The experience also aligned with their global and United States history curriculum. Attending a Cirque du Soleil performance also connected them to the cultural lessons they learned in French classes.

In order to enter a Disney World Park, visitors must scan their fingerprint to confirm they are the owner of their paid entry bracelet. This procedure, students reported, led to a Socratic seminar discussion about the ethics of such a requirement.

In addition, they said, the trip taught them about independence — a lesson they believe is necessary before heading to college.

Some residents who attended the school board meeting, however, had different opinions.

While they agreed the trip should continue to be offered, they believe it should be at the students’ own expense rather than being funded by taxpayers, as in previous years.

Robert Badalian of Shoreham called the district’s decision to fund the entire 2016-17 trip “outrageous” and described its educational aspects “a huge stretch,” comments that garnered applause from those in attendance.

Mr. Lederer said criticism about the district’s decision should be directed at him, since he had recommended to the board that the district pay for this year’s Disney trip in its entirety.

“If you’re going to look at anybody for making the poor judgment going forward with the trip that occurred in this academic year, then it would be me,” Mr. Lederer said. “As superintendent, I’m responsible for all resolutions proposed to the Board of Education and I’ll take responsibility for that.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how much this year’s trip cost. The total cost was $150,000. We regret the error.