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Jamie Salkind

Special Correspondent

The School Committee in Holliston has proposed a set of “worst case scenario” budget cuts that would make drastic changes throughout the entire district in attempt to fill the school deficit of $1.3 million. Due to many factors and additions to the school system, paying off all expenses and salaries is impossible where the finances stand, making cuts all the more necessary.

The School Committee has found every way possible to eliminate positions, activities, and even transportation for students. The adjustments that need to be made will absolutely affect students’ opportunities and leave educators unemployed.

Although no final decisions have been reached, some proposed budget cuts are as follows:

  • Reduce a high school teacher from each core subject (social studies, math, English, science)
  • Reduce a primary school teacher from grades 1,2,3,5
  • Reduce a middle school wellness teacher
  • Reduce an elementary school guidance counselor
  • Eliminate ½ kindergarten full day paraprofessionals
  • Eliminate high school drama program (retain after-school component)
  • Reducing FOCUS program director salary by $7,215
  • Reduce secretary payroll
  • Eliminate late bus
  • Increase student athletic fees $25/sport

These cuts could potentially leave many highly qualified people unemployed, and, based on the longevity of their employment, leaves the newest teachers from each category at a higher risk for dismissal.

The craziest part about this financial crisis throughout the district is that there is a group of people advocating for tuition-free full day kindergarten. In Holliston, parents pay $3,475 a year to send their children to full-day kindergarten, while half-day kindergarten is tuition free. Although children can benefit greatly from participating in full-day kindergarten, the advocates estimate that it would cost $425,000 annually with an additional $20,000 year-one outlay to fund the program.

Clearly, with dozens of jobs on the line, making an advancement towards free full day kindergarten is a last priority for the School Committee. The proposal, developed and presented by Superintendent Dr. Brad Jackson in December 2013, has not officially made its way onto this year’s ballot. The task force hopes to see advances made in the near future.

Bottom line – Holliston is in no position to make a groundbreaking transition into the world of free kindergarten. Holliston families have been paying kindergarten tuition since the program was introduced, and now is not the time for a revolution.

The biggest concerns for the Holliston Public School system is education. Starting in kindergarten, the loss of paraprofessionals will be equivalent to the loss of extra help and attention for children with social/learning disabilities. In the elementary school and middle school, eliminating teachers will force larger class sizes which will limit individual learning opportunities. This will affect how children learn, in turn affecting how they succeed in high school.

Most concerning, cutting high school teachers from each department will affect students opportunities drastically. With one less teacher in the English department (for example), the remaining teachers would have to cover more core English classes that students are required to take. In doing this, teachers would be unable to teach elective English classes such as Journalism, Creative Writing, and SAT Prep. Class sizes would also increase for core courses, making them more difficult to teach on an individual-needs basis.

These effects would be felt in every subject. Science courses are very popular at HHS and many students continue on to study the sciences in college. Lily Stering, a junior at HHS, plans to study criminal justice in college.

In response to the possibility of cutting science electives in the future, she said, “I’d be upset because I’m taking forensic science this year and it helped me decide if I want to be in that career or not.” The wide range in electives at HHS benefits students greatly,  and some may not be as fortunate as Lily to take them before they are no longer available.

In addition to dwindling student opportunity at the high school, the possibility of eliminating the in-school drama department poses a major threat. The drama department offers eight different electives during the school year ranging from Drama Workshop 1 to Stagecraft and Design, as well as drama club after school and two school plays throughout the year (one in the fall, and one in the spring).

Although there is a plan to hire a part time drama coordinator to run the after school program, taking drama classes out of the curriculum during the day is many kids’ worst nightmare. Theater 370 (Holliston High School’s theater program) has many talented and passionate students who devote all their time to acting, singing and dancing. For many, the auditorium is their safe haven during the school day and their second home after school. The drama program has been on the chopping block for school budget cuts for several years, and the possibility of not having any drama courses available for upcoming students is becoming more and more nerveracking.

Taking such drastic measures in the high school is inappropriate. As teenagers, high school  students deserve to explore curriculum freely. Ten years from now when their parents ask their children, “What are you going to major in, sociology, meteorology, cinematography?” many responses will be, “What are those? I never learned about those subjects in school.”

Students appreciate and take advantage of the unique classes their school offers, which is why so many seniors are able to pick a major before they enter college. The more exposure students have to various topics, the more well rounded people they become.

In addition to an education, students deserve a late bus so they are able to stay after school for extra help, the same drama coordinator they’ve grown to love, and a sports/activity fee that doesn’t increase every year. These changes will greatly affect the adults working in the school system, the students, and their parents.

The School Committee will be holding a meeting in May to finalize cuts in the Holliston school district. The town is eligible for an override which would raise taxes in order to fund the public school system. Given the education and opportunities HHS offers its students and the high rankings the district has achieved, taxes should be increased to keep our schools prosperous.

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