Editorial: Fairytale trips should not be funded by taxpayers

There was once a time when it didn’t take much for a Shoreham-Wading River School District budget proposal to fail.

Take 2008, for example. In a year when state legislation assured that property taxes would be frozen, the budget was still rejected by a majority of voters. It was the eighth time in 20 years district residents failed to pass the proposed spending plan on an initial vote, something they’d do again the following year.

In those days, the margin for error in getting a budget approved was so razor thin that district spending was approached with extreme caution. Often, residents were told, the schools didn’t have the money to fund desired programs.

In recent years, with a string of seven consecutive approved budgets, that fear of failure seems to have waned. There is no better example of this than the district’s recent decisions to fund a portion of this year’s and next year’s planned senior trip to Walt Disney World with taxpayer money.

This school year, taxpayers shelled out more than $150,000 to send about 180 students to the Orlando resort last month. The cost to each individual student was just $200.

As was documented in the pages of this newspaper at the time, the district funded the trip after a group of students convinced school board members that it offered educational value. While it’s nice to see students get involved in the political process and fight for something they believe in, let’s not kid ourselves here. The trip’s value is mostly that it’s a fun thing for them to do. Let’s not pretend they’re studying rocket science on Space Mountain or holding mock debates in the Hall of Presidents.

Media attention to the district’s decision to budget $40,000 toward the 2017-18 trip — first reported on our website last week and followed up with an exclusive tag in Newsday Monday — is sure to again raise the worry meter on budget vote night to mid-2000s levels. And it should.

It’s simply wrong to force residents to pay tens of thousands of dollars for such a luxury. In a district like Shoreham-Wading River, where poverty levels are low, the students and their parents should pay for it themselves. Don’t have the money, kid? Go work at Splish Splash for the summer. There’s educational value there, too.

In a community where there isn’t much for kids to do outside school, the district could easily fund 10 or more after-school clubs and activities with $40,000. Just think of what it could have done with $150,000!

This editorial will likely mean that more than a few angry parents and school officials will surely blame us, Newsday — and, of course, that pesky little Community Journal newspaper — if the budget fails next month. It’s a small world after all.

But we’d point the finger 1,100 miles away at a mouse named Mickey, who just padded his own pocket with a great deal of money taken from those of taxpayers who received no value from the senior trip — educational or otherwise.