Students And Parents Come Out in Force to Protest Elementary School Budget Cuts


Photo: Greenwich Central School District

Report on the Meeting of the Amherst School Committee and Public Forum on the School Budget, February 13, 202

This meeting was held virtually over Google Meet and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.

$500,000 in Cuts to Elementary Budget impact Instrumental Music, Special Ed, and Preschool
The Amherst School Committee held a virtual meeting on February 13 that included a presentation on the budget from Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter and a public forum. The presentation laid out $503,971 in cuts identified as being needed to align the elementary school budget with the available funds from the town and other funding sources. Among the proposed position cuts are one instrument instruction teacher shared across the elementary schools, that would eliminate fourth graders’ access to instruction; two special education teachers, that would reduce the co-teaching model at Crocker Farm and Wildwood (it was unclear which grade levels would be impacted); and one paraeducator position from the preschool program.

The virtual meeting was attended by over 100 people and was broadcast on Amherst Media. It lasted four hours. Forty-three people gave live public comment; two elementary students played instruments; seven people left voicemail comments; and 92 pages of public comment were submitted by email. Comments overwhelmingly voiced support for retaining the current level of music and the arts in school, supporting our most vulnerable students through special education services, prioritizing student-facing positions over administrative positions, and committing to equity, in consideration of students who cannot afford a private music education.

This was the first of two meetings this week devoted to the elementary school budget. The second was scheduled for February 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall.

Summary of Public Comments
Former Amherst School Committee member Katie Lazdowski spoke about the importance of keeping the student as the unit of analysis. 

Laura Hunter, Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) and Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) parent, spoke about prioritizing student-facing positions and increasing funding streams, perhaps in partnership with local universities.

Odin, a Crocker Farm student, spoke about the equity issue of some students not being able to afford private music lessons and having to rely on  instruction at the school.

Meka Magee, a Middle School teacher, reminded the committee of member Dr. Irv Rhodes’s words to “keep the cuts furthest from the classroom.”

Ariel Templeton, band teacher at the elementary schools, spoke on behalf of the music teachers and the importance of music programs to students. She noted that such cuts will present equity issues since the lessons and instruments are provided free for students.

Carolyn Walker, ARHS graduate, spoke of her experience interning with the elementary schools while in high school and seeing how formative music instruction is.

Molly Cooksey, ARHS graduate and current Fort River kindergarten teacher in Caminantes (the dual language program at Fort River), spoke about how the proposed cuts to special education will lead to non-compliance with IEPs (Individual Education Programs) because of teaching resources will be diverted.

Marisol, ARHS junior, spoke about her positive experiences with music at Wildwood.

Yasuiki Suzuki, parent and orchestra teacher, spoke in favor of fully funding the elementary music programs, noting their importance  for the secondary music programs. He also spoke about the support the Amherst Education Foundation has provided through grants for instruments, and the increase in enrollment the program has seen since COVID.

Ellen Jedrey-Guidera spoke as a parent of students who use special education services and music instruction, asking that neither program receive cuts.

Laura Pagliarulo, parent, asked about the Fair Share amendment funding coming to Amherst schools. Interim Superintendent Slaughter answered that because Amherst schools are well funded,  it will not receive a significant amount of money.

Allegra Clark, ARHS graduate and Wildwood parent, asked if each student is funded at the same amount from the state, or if there are larger amounts for students who receive services because this would present equity issues. She implored the committee not to make cuts at all, but instead to look for ways to increase funding, including partnering with Amherst College.

Shannon Coler, and her two children who are Wildwood students, Emmy and Leona, spoke about the importance of the music program.

John Bilderbeck, parent of a Caminantes student, spoke of the important ways the district can differentiate itself from other local schools, including music and the dual-language program.

Angelica Bernal, Special Education Parent Advisory Council representative, read a petition signed by 165 parents imploring the district not to cut funding for the most vulnerable students, and said that they routinely face cuts to their programs.

Johnnie Dredge and a Crocker Farm student advised that we need to learn more music, not less.

Ramsey Kurdi, Amherst resident, Amherst Regional Public Schools (ARPS) parent, music teacher, and collective bargaining representative for his school district, spoke against cutting the elementary music program noting “we fund what we value.”

Kate Brandt, Pelham resident, spoke about finding community through the arts. She also said that it is embarrassing that special education funding is even being discussed for cuts.

Ariande, a Fort River fifth grader, spoke against the music program cuts.

Matteo Pangallo, Shutesbury resident and Pelham choice family, said that if the costs of Pelham’s program are passed to the Pelham school, it is the equivalent of a cut. He pointed out that Slaughter had stated the district was not getting Fair Share money because it has “well-funded schools,” yet here we are discussing budget cuts.

Annaliese Kittrell and her children Delaney and Adela, Amherst residents, spoke about how music is empowering — giving “a voice without speaking.” They noted the impact to marginalized groups that might not be able to access music without the public school programs.

Michelle Marinelli Prindle, Amherst resident and parent, said that she was shocked that Interim Superintendent Slaughter praised the six students accepted to the All State Orchestra in his newsletter last week but is now proposing cuts to the elementary music program. She spoke about the impact of cuts on music programs and voiced her concern that there would be no secondary (music) program without the elementary program.

Kyle Busacker called the proposed cuts to music and special education “preposterous.” He spoke about the importance of support for post-pandemic mental health and how music allows all people to express themselves outside of technology and the epidemic of screentime. 

A student played “Eye of the Tiger” on trumpet.

Lexi Monneson-Olsen spoke of the impact on social-emotional learning for students who would lose access to instrument instruction, including those who receive special education services.

Rhys, ARHS student, spoke about the importance of music.

WaiJe Coler, ARHS graduate and parent, said, “Enough cutting the arts. Music is a global language.” 

Julie HawkOwl, ARHS parent, spoke about the disservice of taking away “non-screen-time instruction.” She spoke about the shifts in special education services she’s noticed for her two children, with the older one receiving more services than the younger.

Ellen Jedrey-Guidera played a recording of her fourth-grade student asking no that cuts be made.

Nettie Harrington Pangallo, a Pelham-choice parent, and her two children read statements asking that no cuts be made that would affect the Pelham orchestra.

Amber Cano-Martin, a Caminantes parent, implored the School Committee to ask for more money from the Town Council and not just accept the proposed cuts.

Cora Fernandez Anderson noted that the proposed cuts are also  a labor issue, signaling that not only do we not care about our students, but we don’t care about our teachers either.

Dan Levine, ARHS graduate and Wildwood parent, spoke about how difficult it has been to parent a child with special needs and also be available to participate in  meetings like this to advocate for them. He talked about the revolving door of educators who had been working with his child, and asked, “Is this the town that would take money from kids with special needs?” He added, “I am utterly furious that the district intends to target [the] most vulnerable, and blame the town and the state, as Allison McDonald did in the Current today.” (see )

Geoffrey Hudson, ARHS graduate and parent, spoke about public school music as an “open door.” “If you take it away,” he said, “only those of privilege will be able to participate.”

Julian, ARHS senior, spoke about how neighboring towns Granby and Belchertown spend 52% and 60% respectively of their town’s overall budget on education, while Amherst spends 47%. He said that  the committee should look elsewhere if it needs to make cuts.

Alex Lopez, Crocker Farm parent and APEA Executive Board member, spoke directly to the students who had spoken, thanking them for their bravery to say “No” to cuts, stating that the adults should borrow the bravery to say “No” to the proposed budget from Town Council.

Erica Drake, and her son, a Crocker Farm fifth  grader, said that “music should be required, not cut.” As an administrator at UMass, she said that  “the world needs more teachers, not more administrators.”

Sarah Braman, Crocker Farm parent, reminded the School Committee that the budget is a moral document, reflecting the values of the town.

Matthew Westgate, Crocker Farm parent, said that ensemble music is one of the only times students have the opportunity to create something together. He said the School Committee should prioritize students, teachers, beauty, cooperation, and community.

Megan McAra, Amherst parent, expressed disbelief, and said that these were the first steps toward “killing” both the music and special education programs.

Declan, Crocker Farm student, spoke about band as a team and a family, and then he played the saxophone.

Kathryn Lachman, Amherst parent, stated that “music is a seed you plant.”

Juniper, fourth grade student, asked that the music program not be cut.

Voicemails Express Similar Sentiments
Cora Anderson Fernandez opposed all cuts to teaching.

Ismail Dahl, fifth grader, also opposed cuts.

Kristen Tamgalli read a Plato quote: “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good and just and beautiful.”

Ellen Boucher said she was troubled by the special education and music cuts. She reported that special education students are the highest needs students. She said  the district needs to grow the school budget, and that charter school enrollment strips $3 million annually from it.

Jeff Kalman, Wildwood first-grade special education teacher, said that the schools need more support and that students are struggling post-COVID.

Soleil Sonada, Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA) representative, discussed financial mismanagement and stated that five new positions with salaries of more than six figures each had been added without being  posted.  She quoted Rhodes’ statement that  “cuts should be made furthest from the classroom.

Laura Draucker, Wildwood parent, spoke about long- and short-term solutions to the school’s budgetary woes, and  said that the district  will be back in the same position next year, with more cuts in the budget.

After the Testimony
After the voicemails were heard, there was a discussion about how to handle the 92 pages of email submissions, many of which were from people who also spoke at the meeting. Rhodes said he thought it is unreasonable to scroll through all of the comments, but other committee members left the decision up to Chair Sarah Marshall, who decided to slowly scroll through the comments on the screen. That process took an hour. Members of the Amherst Pelham Education Association wanted their petition to be read out loud because it represented 140 individuals, but Marshall chose not  to treat it differently than the other emails.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:30 p.m.

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