PARIS — A request last week made to School Administrative District 17 board to approve two Oxford Hills schools’ field trips put on display the challenges facing experiential education across Maine.

Ten years ago the Maine Department of Education removed student field trips as an expense line item for school budgets. The consequence has been that schools able to fundraise have a inequitable advantage over schools in communities with financial hardships. SAD 17 board members debated the issue and discussed possible workarounds to ensure more students are able to participate going forward.

Oxford Elementary and Otisfield Community school principals submitted requests for sixth grade students to attend the Schoodic Education Adventure (SEA) Program at Acadia National Park on Sept. 28-30.

The Thompson Lake Environmental Association donated $4,000 towards providing transportation for all students from both schools.

An anonymous donor pledged $8,000 to cover field trips for OES students; funds from this donation would be allocated for overnight lodging at Acadia National Park.

However, Otisfield has no field trip benefactors for its students, who would be required to fundraise to cover expenses, with their families asked to pay $30 and provide at least one bagged lunch (other meals are covered by SEA).


The issue is being compounded by the fact that no custom coach transportation is available for the return trip home on Sept. 30.

Director Lew Williams of Hebron quickly addressed student inequity when the trips came up for consideration at Sept. 6’s school board meeting.

“Oxford has a pretty good grant that allows all the students to go. Otisfield would like to go, and they should. But it looks like the students will have to put in some money to go,” said Williams. “I believe, and I’ve said this before, that any time we sponsor a school activity, no student should pay. Whether we take it from contingency, or we set up special funding for it. It seems to be a problem for the smaller schools.”

Director Bob Jewell of Paris agreed with Williams but spoke in favor of approving the trips anyway.

“I think we should approve this,” suggested Jewell. “And maybe they can find buses back in time to save it. I also agree 100% with Lew. This should be funded.

“Maybe we go a step further. The board should perhaps sit down with administration and figure out what field trips we want for all schools throughout the year. So every school has the same field trip and the district pays for it 100%.


District Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley informed the board that because of MDOE’s budget policy adjustment school districts are no longer able to pay for them.

“We can take private donations but can’t use local (district) funds,” Colley said.

Board Vice-Chair Jared Cash of Norway also spoke about the need to make field trips more accessible for all Oxford Hills students.

“We’ve got an issue to make sure it’s affordable, that we have the operations to support it, that curriculum ties into it and there is equity for students,” he said. “There are resources and private donations. We have a multifaceted interest. I am going to ask that the meeting notes summarize all the challenges different schools are facing on field trips.”

Earlier this year, Oxford Hills alum Rob Campbell established a field trip fund for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students with $10,000 and a pledge to match $15,000 in other donations. That program, called OHCHS Academic Boosters, is not available for other schools to participate.

Director Kitty Winship of Waterford proposed creating a board committee to oversee field trip fundraising and allocation. Jewell suggested that by eliminating field trips as individual projects by school and making them a district program the board could add flexibility to covering their costs.


“If a quote unquote field trip came from the board and affects all schools, it could become an academic program and could be funded because now it’s within the district,” he said. “The field trip title could maybe go away and it is funded as an academic trip.”

Williams was amenable to such a solution but asked that the motion for SEA field trips for Oxford and Otisfield students be tabled until there is no associated financial burden to any student.

“I say we approve it and figure out (financing),” Jewell said. “We’ll get to (the plan).”

“My concern is still the financing. We did not add anything for financing,” Williams told directors.

Directors then voted on the SEA field trip requests, with all directors but Williams approving.

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