School buses and cars blared their horns down Elm Rd. as teachers, parents, and neighbors cheered outside Newton North High School Tuesday morning, mobilized in favor of an override vote in Newton’s special election on March 14.
“I’m out here because if this override does not pass, we’re looking at some really painful and devastating cuts to the school system,” Mike Schlegelmilch, an English teacher at Newton North and a member of the Newton Teachers Association (NTA), said.
The NTA—in collaboration with Yes for Newton, a ballot question committee that urges Newton residents to vote “yes” in March’s election—organized 21 community standouts in support of the override across several public schools in Newton on Feb. 14 and 15, according to Schlegelmilch.
If residents vote in favor of the override questions, some money from the $15 million tax increase would be directed toward the reconstruction of Countryside Elementary School and Franklin Elementary School, as well as staffing and operating costs across Newton Public Schools (NPS).
These funds are crucial, both to promote student well-being and provide adequate staffing to schools, Schlegelmilch said.
“We would be losing staff, for sure, which would mean higher class sizes,” he said. “That would also mean higher caseloads for our counselors. And this is at a time when student mental health is really in crisis in a lot of ways. So I’m out here really to fight for our students and also to fight for my colleagues.”
There is also concern among supporters of the override that class and extracurricular offerings would be cut should the vote fail, according to Patty Eagan, co-president of the Newton North Parent Teacher Student Organization.
“Schools will be decimated if the overrides don’t pass,” Eagan said. “My son does a lot of theatre and, you know, they’re talking about having to cut beyond just the academics. One of the amazing things about Newton North is how many class offerings we have, and class offerings would have to go down.”
The goal of the standouts was to educate community members who were unfamiliar with the importance of the override, according to Amy Winston, vice principal of Newton North.
“I’m trying to get the word out to the community,” Winston said. “It’s clear that not everyone in the community knows what’s going on and knows what the potential impact on the schools will be if the override doesn’t pass, and so we’re doing our best to get out and be visible so that the community knows the importance of the vote on March 14.”
It is also important to show that the override is something that affects all Newton residents, not just educators, according to Schlegelmilch.
“Well, today we’re out here not just with educators—we also have community members,” he said. “And so we’re really making a stand together to show that, you know, this isn’t just about teachers and educators. This is something where the community at large is really united in supporting our schools and keeping them well funded.”
Eagan said she hopes that the standouts encouraged individuals who saw the group to think about why voters should support the override.
“I hope that people driving by who maybe are thinking they don’t want their taxes to go up will wonder why everybody’s standing out here and supportive,” Eagan said. “The schools are a big reason why people move to Newton.”
It was reassuring to see the community support educators in the standout, according to Al Calderone, a retired biology teacher at Newton North.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the community,” Calderone said. “Teachers have always appreciated the way the community rallies with and around us, and we’re here asking them for their support moving forward.”