By Justin Liu, Suvi Talvitie and Alex Zakuta
graphic by Lynn Kim
Newton Public Schools (NPS) is projected to have a $4.9 million budget gap for the coming school year. To address this, the City of Newton proposed a tax override vote in March that would have provided more funding for the school system by raising property taxes above the state limit of 2.5%.
Ultimately, Question One was rejected, prompting NPS to cut its expenses.
Math and physics teacher Ryan Normandin said that the necessary cuts have been coming for a long time. As a result of contracts enacted 20 years ago, new projects such as rebuilding of schools were implemented and caused Newton’s costs to rise under the assumption that the city would find a substantial source of funding.
“We’ve created a structural deficit, where the City of Newton doesn’t have the money because it is not raising the revenue to pay for all of its costs,” he said.
Principal Tamara Stras said that the student to teacher ratio will grow larger due to these budget issues and the impossibility of hiring more faculty.
“Enrollment is actually increasing, which should mean that we get additional teachers to teach the kids who are coming here, but the school system itself doesn’t have the money to sustain all the positions that we need,” she said.
Special education teacher Kate Nardell said that students may find it more difficult to get individual support as teachers and programs are cut.
“Teachers who manage special education students will have increased work,” she said. “A service provider may be spread across multiple schools instead of being based in one school… the amount of aid and support a student receives may decrease.”
Staff will also be facing cuts and many newly hired teachers face the risk of being let go. Data analyst and scheduler Faye Cassell said that the school community will feel losses.
“We know we’re going to lose some of our really good colleagues who, because they’re the most recent hire, are the first ones to get cut,” she said.
Yet, Cassell said that the impacts of the budget cuts will be felt throughout the entire staff.
“Just like any professional worker, teachers would like to get raises because we know inflation is really high,” she said. “How can we do that if we can’t even maintain funding?”
Normandin said that the budget cuts will have a negative impact on students struggling with mental health post-pandemic.
“After a pandemic when students are struggling more with mental health than they have probably at any time in modern history,” he said. “We’re cutting mental health support. It boggles the mind.”
Extracurriculars are threatened as well, causing worry among student actors, musicians and athletes, among others. Although South Stage is mostly self-sustaining through ticket sales and donations, the school has since had to dissolve its work-study in theater, a program that gave students the experience of working as a stagehand or production assistant.
South Stage manager Nathan Smith-Michaels said the theater program will suffer because it doesn’t increase profits for the school.
“The fact that [South Stage] doesn’t make a ton of money makes it a huge liability and less of a priority,” he said.
The money that the program does receive from the school usually goes to hiring directors and artists. South Stage technical director Ryan Spruck said that these stipends are vital to the program.
“Right now we are able to attract some really top notch talent to come in and work with our students and give them a variety of people to direct them, help design shows and work with them,” he said. “If we’re offering them less money, arguably we’ll get people who are not as experienced and maybe not as good.”
Cassell predicts that the budget cuts would also have an impact on other student activities.
“Sports that are really expensive might have to be cut. For example, we might not run a freshman team,” she said. “Clubs might not be able to offer as many stipends for teachers, so that might mean fewer clubs.”
Although the override has already been rejected, Normandin said that even students who can’t vote can still take an active role in advocating for their education.
“When students speak, people listen,” he said. “They should organize on things that they care about. It’s good practice for the real world in which hopefully they will continue to be active citizens.”