SHOREHAM-WADING RIVER, Long Island (WABC) --An annual tradition at one Long Island school is sparking a firestorm after residents learned that taxpayers picked up most of the tab.
The majority of the senior class at Shoreham-Wading River High School went to Orlando in March in what is a longstanding tradition that dates back to the 1990s. But instead of the less than $10,000 spent by the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District in 2016, the cost this year topped $150,000.
And while students called the senior trip to Disney World a priceless educational experience, some taxpayers were furious they had to foot the bill.
"It was a lot of money, but it was a good experience," student Benjamin Scheiber said. "I think it was pretty educational. We learned to be a little independent, on our own."
It was the trip of a lifetime for Scheiber and his classmates, enjoying four days of fun and sun. Students usually pick up most of the cost, but this year, the Disney getaway was re-labeled an educational field trip. And as such, district officials reasoned they were responsible for a total of nearly $153,000.
"To be funded by the school or by the school district is not teaching them very much at all," taxpayer Melissa Frey said. "They should be taught to raise the money for themselves if they want to value their trip at all."
The unprecedented move has since forced one of the happiest places on earth into the crosshairs of a bitter ongoing feud between the district and taxpayers.
"Either way is fine," one parent said. "But if they did it last year, last year they only paid $10,000, they should have done about the same this year."
With next year's school budget coming up for a vote soon, the district has already allotted significantly less funding for future school-sponsored trips. But some believe the damage has already been done.
"No, just no," one resident said. "I would find something other than Disney for education...I think someone may have dropped the ball on this one."
The superintendent declined an Eyewitness News request for an interview, but district officials released the following statement:
The District prides itself on providing a multitude of enrichment activities for students, including school-sponsored field trips throughout the year.
For the 2016-17 school year, the District allocated funds within the adopted budget to expand enrichment opportunities for students, which included full funding for all school-related field trips.
Each year, the District reviews its policies and practices in an effort to best serve our student body, while also being financially prudent with taxpayer dollars. That said, the District has allotted significantly less funding in the 2017-18 budget for school sponsored trips. Although we have, and will continue to financially support these excursions, funding will only support the educational components of the trip, and may not include logistical planning such as food, transportation and lodging.
The District recognizes the cultural and social benefits field trips offer our students and we will continue to engage students in hands-on learning experiences.
As always, we appreciate the fundraising work of our students, community and parent groups that assist us in reaching our academic goals.
UPDATE: In response to this story, district officials have announced they are reallocating $40,000 that was originally slated for the 2018 senior trip to fund other initiatives. Here is the text of the letter sent to residents:
Dear Shoreham-Wading River Community,
Over the past month there has been much discussion and debate over the District's funding of the 2017 senior class trip. We have engaged students, parents and residents in these conversations and have listened to each valued and unique perspective.
As a result of these communications, the administration, with full support from the Board of Education, has made the determination to further revise field trip funding and reallocate the $40,000, which was originally slated for a 2018 senior trip. This money will be redistributed into the proposed 2017-2018 budget to fund other initiatives.
The District feels this decision is in the best interest of the educational community at large and is why each year, the District reviews its policies and practices in an effort to best serve our student body. The creation of the budget is an inclusive and fluid process as demonstrated by the open dialogue we shared on this topic and the receptive nature of the district, which prompted this budgetary shift.
The District prides itself on providing a multitude of enrichment activities for students, and will continue to explore ways to responsibly fund educational experiences for the student body.
We appreciate the community's support and feedback and look forward to another successful school year ahead.
Interim Superintendent of Schools