The updated fiscal year (FY) 2024 Newton Public School (NPS) budget reallocates funding to the fourth grade strings and fifth grade orchestra programs following community pushback to their initial elimination in the first proposed budget.
Save Newton Strings, a group of parents, guardians, students, alumni, and community members opposed to the proposed cuts, led the effort to reintegrate funding for the programs back into the budget.
“This was a marvelous example of community participation, and an important educational matter, and social and developmental matter,” Paul Levy, Ward 6 School Committee member, said. “I, for one, am really pleased that people felt that it was so important to their children’s lives and education that they came out and let their feelings be known by the hundreds.”
Interim NPS Superintendent Kathleen Smith presented the original proposed FY24 budget on March 29, and Newton parents and educators rallied in protest of the budget cuts shortly after. NPS parent and cello teacher Kate de Bethune said her experience teaching NPS elementary school students informed her advocacy through Save Newton Strings.
“[The students] come to me in fifth grade because it is recommended to them that they get a private teacher, and I’ve truly come to appreciate the excellent foundation that they receive in this outstanding program,” de Bethune said. “There’s just no getting around it—it’s a wonderful thing.”
Save Newton Strings helped organize Stringfest—an orchestral performance by NPS students to advocate for the preservation of elementary strings—and an online petition, which had 1472 signatures at the time of publication.
“We feel that the ripple effects of this cut will be deep and long-lasting,” the petition reads.
The campaign also encouraged community members, including NPS elementary school students, to contact School Committee members and Newton city councilors.
“A lot of the kids, especially fourth graders, were like, ‘What can we do?’” NPS music teacher Olivia de Geofroy said. “They wanted to act, they wanted to tell anyone who was listening that they didn’t think it was okay.”
Levy said he has received an outpouring of communication protesting the programs’ elimination from students, parents, and educators as a part of the Save Newton Strings campaign, including communication from current NPS students.
“I beg of you not to cut the Strings Program,” reads one email from an NPS elementary school student. “I enjoy playing my instrument and I have learned a lot this year.”
The original budget’s elimination of the elementary strings program would have cut 1.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions and saved $98,000, which many residents found to be relatively small in the face of a $4.9 million deficit and not worth the loss of the entire program, according to de Bethune.
“It’s the only program that was slated for elimination outright,” de Bethune said. “And you know, Newton is also a city with an incredibly rich musical heritage, and particularly around string players. You know, many luminary string players have lived in Newton in their lives.”
The new proposed budget, which was approved by the School Committee at its meeting on Thursday, raises fees for 10 different programs, including raising the fee for elementary band and orchestra programs from $150 to $200, according to Thursday’s presentation.
According to de Geofroy, the positive impact of accessible music programs in public schools is what makes fighting for them important.
“[The orchestra] helps them build relationships with each other,” de Geofroy said. “There’s like the intrinsic benefits [the kids] get from it that are musical and non-musical, and then there’s the community benefits they get from it, musical and non-musical. So I just think that there’s a lot to be said for making music for your friends.”