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Northampton High School students plan protest over proposed school budget cuts

Students will gather outside the high school at 12:40 p.m. — the break between third and fourth periods — and march to the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence on Main Street. There, student speakers, art activities and performances by NHS music, theater and improv groups, including the Northamptones and the cast of “Annie,” will take place on the lawn.

Student organizers say the “Rally for Creativity in Northampton Schools” aims to support the NHS administration and the School Committee in their efforts to create a budget for fiscal 2014.

“It is a celebration and a shout to be heard,” said an email statement from NHS seniors Ana Baustin and Bailey Lathrop, the lead rally organizers. “The students of Northampton High School are expressing their love for creative classes and frustration with the lack of money to fund our schools.”

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 500 students, parents and other community members had posted plans to attend on the rally’s Facebook page.

The School Department’s latest budget draft shows the city schools need $1.27 million to maintain the same level of services in 2014. Administrators face a $1.25 million shortfall to balance the district’s $27.8 million bottom line. The city is expected to ante up $24 million for the school department and $69,000 is anticipated in state aid, leaving a budget gap. At NHS, proposed cuts include elimination of a full-time art teacher and a part-time technology teacher and reducing band, music, photography and theater teaching positions to part time.

Baustin said she got involved because “I didn’t want the class of 2013 to be the last to have a theater department. We’re taking a stand that the arts are really important to our education.”

But Baustin — who directed a Georges Feydeau farce performed last month at NHS’s new Black Box Theater — stressed that the rally is about more than the arts.

“We understand there’s not enough money to fully staff all the academic subjects,” Baustin added. “This rally is to bring awareness to the fact that here we are in Northampton, a mecca of culture, and yet our public schools are struggling.”

In a post on the rally’s Facebook page, NHS parent Keith Davis urged other adults to attend.

“The most motivating experiences had by my two children were in the arts, music and theater programs at NHS,” he said in the post. “To me, cutting these programs is like taking food out of their mouths.”

Two music positions will be reduced to 34% each. Photography to 34%. Theater is reduced. Art is reduced to one teacher at 67%. The cuts are devastating. The gazette should get the real numbers and publish them.

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