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Frontier shelves student field trips

Riding the yellow school bus to visit the zoo, the Buffalo Museum of Science or a nature park will be just a memory for Frontier School District students.

Beginning this fall, Frontier’s students will no longer be going on field trips – a victim of the budget ax.

The district joins a growing number in the area that have had to do away with the beloved school activity.

“Over the last two years, the discussion about cuts in field trips has returned,” said Donald Ogilvie, district superintendent and chief executive officer of Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, encompassing 19 local school districts.

He said Frontier is one of the last holdouts in the area in offering in even limited field trips. Many districts have stopped offering them or severely limited the number of them – often because of the expense of bus transportation – opting instead for cheaper, “virtual” field trips.

In late March, Frontier Superintendent James C. Bodziak warned the Frontier School Board in late March that the “spigot is going to be cut off for field trips outside Frontier.”

On Monday, he confirmed that field trips districtwide will be eliminated for next year.

“We’re forced into it,” he said.

Scrapping field trips will save Frontier about $25,125 in a roughly $72 million preliminary budget – the amount it budgeted for those trips during the current school year.

What will remain, however, is bus transportation within the district for events such as concert rehearsals or, in the case of fifth-graders, the long-standing tradition of a year-end track-and-field event held at the high school.

“The actual field trips to sites in Buffalo and Erie County will have to be funded in a different way,” Bodziak said.

Just how remains unclear. Typically, cash-strapped districts in recent years have reached out to parent-teacher organizations for help. The Frontier administration and its parent-teacher groups have not yet spoken.

Cloverbank Elementary School PTA President Celeste Chase noted that the PTA is limited because it is not allowed to fund transportation, according to its bylaws and insurance regulations.

“We’ve supplemented for different classes to go to things, but not the transportation,” Chase said. “It is pretty sad to think they’re not going to be able to do fun activities outside the district that are learning experiences.”

What Frontier is facing is not unusual.

With technology making virtual tours and online resources available to districts, Ogilvie said, more and more schools are turning to those options to fill the gap.

Last month, for instance, nearly 80 Western New York schools participated in an online performance by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance, sponsored by Time Warner Cable, was broadcast from Kleinhans Music Hall on a secure stream through broadband internet to the schools.

“None of these schools wants to deprive students of the actual on-site visit, because nothing compares ... But virtual tours are a way of introducing them to cultural opportunities. For a lot of us, those [field trips] were your dose of culture.”

That is not lost on Bodziak.

“Field trips provide a valuable enrichment for the students, but in this day and age of technology, a lot of teachers take their kids on virtual tours,” Bodziak said. “If they want to look at the polar bear cub at the Buffalo Zoo, they can call it up. We’re getting to the point where many districts have had to cut out field trips entirely.”

About two years ago, Frontier limited the number of field trips per grade level to just one per year.

The district held to that reduction last year and again this school year. But now, they say, they can’t afford to do any at all.

“If there is a backlash, I’ll say, ‘OK, fine. Tell me, if you want that back in, what else do you want cut out,’” Bodziak said.

If the days of traditional field trips are to return, Ogilvie said, it would have to occur with some sort of regional-based cooperation. “We need regional busing, student schedules and overlapping instructional plans,” he said.

And as school budgets have tightened and field trips have begun to disappear, parent-teacher associations face their own challenges in supporting their own missions. “For them to be brought in as a revenue source for these kinds of things doesn’t sit well,” Ogilvie said.