Budget woes threaten beloved Plano field trip




Posted on February 13, 2012 at 7:07 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 14 at 4:41 PM

PLANO – Budget cuts threaten to end a nearly two-decade tradition in Plano schools: the annual school field trip to the symphony.

"This was a legacy," said fourth-grade parent Julie Truex. "Fourth graders in Plano go to the symphony. It’s the way it’s almost always been!"
For nearly 25 years, Plano fourth graders were treated to a trip to the city’s symphony. For many students, it was their only opportunity to hear an orchestra perform classical music live. The program also included campus visits from professional musicians like Glen Hummel, who shows off several types of trumpets to the children.
"Most kids aren’t able to go to a classical concert," he said. "So they can see up close, here’s what a trumpet player looks like and here’s what a trumpet looks like."
Yet, tough budget decisions made months ago are now being felt in schools across North Texas.

Plano’s school board last year cut nearly $300,000 worth of school field trips from its budget, including $115,000 for the Symphony Sampler Concert. The move suddenly eliminated annual trips to places like the Heritage Farmstead Museum, the Whiz Quiz tournament, as well as the Plano Symphony.
"It’s a big blow for us," said the symphony’s executive director Debbie Watson. 

She’s now trying to collect enough money privately so elementary students can continue to be exposed to the orchestra.
"We’re committed to making it happen," she said. "We don’t want it to go away."
Yet the challenge is imposing. The symphony must raise $25,000 by Feb. 20 to send roughly 3,000 students to the concert in March. Watson says it cost about $1,000 to bus each school of fourth graders from Plano to the Eisemann Center in Richardson for the performance. Several individual PTAs have raised the money themselves to pay for their own kids’ visit. However, only 18 of the district’s 44 elementary schools have been able to collect enough cash.
"We’re reaching out to the community to make that happen," Watson said.
Julie Truex is president of the PTA at Plano’s Dooley Elementary. Parents there have doubled their fundraising efforts recently so their students can continue to enjoy field trips. With fewer dollars coming from the district, they now rely less on walk-a-thons, for instance, and online auctions to raise big amounts of cash.
"It is difficult," Truex said. "We’ve changed how we raise money - we’ve looked at different fundraising options."
Her school has raised $4,000 this year to continue funding field trips not only to the Symphony, but to the Dallas Zoo and to Owens Farm.
The district says many of its schools are able to raise the money themselves to continue sending children on field trips, although parents worry that hurts schools in lower-income areas. Still, PISD continues to fund trips to the city’s Outdoor Learning Center and encourages campuses to apply for grants or appeal to corporate sponsors.
"It’s disturbing to me," Truex said. "We’ve lost focus on learning outside of the classroom."
People who would like to donate to the Symphony trip can go to: www.planosymphony.org or call 972-473-7262.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com