A show of support: In anticipation of teacher layoffs, students send a message to the State House

  • Hannah Gebhardt, a senior and Student Council president at South Hadley High School, sits alongside state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Superintendent Nicholas Young, Friday. JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • Hannah Gebhardt, a senior and Student Council president at South Hadley High School, sits alongside state Rep. Dan Carey and state Sen. Jo Comerford. JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • South Hadley High School students deliver letters in support of the PROMISE Act to state Rep. Dan Carey and state Sen. Jo Comerford. JACQUELYN VOGHEL

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 12:06:22 AM

SOUTH HADLEY — As South Hadley anticipates teacher layoffs in the wake of a significant budget shortfall, students have blitzed the State House with more than 750 letters calling for greater support of school districts like their own. 

On Friday morning, state Sen. Jo Comerford and state Rep. Dan Carey visited the school to collect the letters and speak with the students who worked to organize the campaign in support of the PROMISE Act — a bill that advocates say would provide better and more equitable funding for schools across Massachusetts. 

Voters at a Town Meeting on Wednesday approved a fiscal 2020 budget of $21.5 million, which includes a 1.29 percent increase of $275,000 for the South Hadley school district. Town Administrator Mike Sullivan had previously acknowledged that the district could use between $900,000 and $1.2 million in funding to operate the schools, but said that the town does not have the resources to provide greater funding.

Senior and Student Council President Hannah Gebhardt, who spearheaded the campaign, said that many students were “shaken” by the news that impending layoffs are likely under next year’s budget.

“Imagining a school without some of the faculty we’ve essentially grown up with … may not have to be imagined soon,” Gebhardt said at the gathering of students, teachers, school officials, and the two state legislators. “It may soon be a reality.”

Around 550 students attend the high school. In addition to writing letters of their own, students also worked with teachers to gather a collection of letters outnumbering the student population. 

Gebhardt said she hopes the letters will show legislators the urgency of an issue affecting schools across the state and humanize those affected by funding shortfalls. 

“We’ve done everything we can at the local level,” Gebhardt told the Gazette. “We’ve distributed our funds as best as we can, and we need the state to start to act on that.” 

Comerford called the students’ civic engagement “a dream come true,” adding that the letters are “like gold to us” at the State House. 

“You’re not only fighting today for your well-being,” Comerford said, “but for students throughout the commonwealth and students to come.”

Carey called the student-led campaign “inspiring.”

“The impact is huge,” Carey told the Gazette, “especially because it came from the students. They didn’t need to write these letters, but they saw the need.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 

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