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7th grader Kerrigan Mahoney helped organize a talent show to raise money for her school.
7th grader Kerrigan Mahoney helped organize a talent show to raise money for her school.

Students show talent to fight for the arts

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The latest Siena College poll found Governor Cuomo enjoying the support of near three-quarters of New Yorkers even after his austerity budget cut $1.2 billion to schools. Now reality's setting in as districts finalize their budget plans. And in many North Country districts, the news is ugly, with teacher layoffs and program cuts the norm.

The news is so bad, students themselves are fighting back. Today we have two stories from opposite ends of the region. We start in Croghan in Lewis County, where the Beaver River school district may cut or reduce a third of its staff, including several music and art teachers. Students organized a talent show last night to raise money. David Sommerstein was there.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Last week, 25 teachers at Beaver River were told their jobs would be cut back or disappear altogether.

And then they had to go back to their classrooms.  So the whole school, there was definitely a mood that day.

Peter Woolschlager has taught music at Beaver River for 27 years.  That same day, he says, Superintendent Leueen Smithling called a school assembly.

There were too many rumors and the school had to tell them.  And I thought that was wise of the superintendent to have an Assembly and tell the kids what the facts were.

Among the possible cuts included four out of five music teachers.  All but Mr. Woolschlager.

I was pretty devastated that music was going to be cut along with all the other things.

Sitting in that assembly, seventh grader Kerrigan Mahoney decided to do something.  She helped organize a talent show to raise money to save their teachers’ jobs.

[flute]

Mahoney’s warming up for tonight’s performance.  The music rooms are bustling as others practice, too.  Mahoney says careers and dreams are on the line, and she wants Albany to know that.

I just want them to realize just how sad this is for me and a lot of other people.  There’s music and agriculture and art and all that stuff people have already been dreaming to get jobs in.  And now that we’re gonna cut them, we’re not going to get that education here.

Beaver River lost 1.2 million dollars in state aid this year, roughly 7% of its total budget.  That’s on top of a million dollar cut last year.  Like many other rural North Country schools, the only stuff left to cut is the non-mandated programs – music, arts, sports.

 [jazz]

The performances at the talent show are earnest and heartfelt.  Senior Joleen Stoffle of New Bremen plays alto sax in this community jazz band.

[jazz solo]

That’s Stoffle soloing.  She also helped put together this talent show.  She says music and arts are what students come to school for.

Like a lot of people come here, they have their study halls, but they don’t use their study halls to do their homework, they go to the band room and practice their instruments, they go to the art room and finish a project their doing.  We go for help for our core subjects when we need itWe wanna excel in that but what we drives us in school is these electives.

[crossfade to talent show]

I can always look forward to 8th period, band and chorus, stuff like that, and all this music we have here to just kind of get away from it.

Junior Paul Puddington launches into a song from Man from la Mancha, the musical about don Quixote.

[singing]

It may be quixotic to think the state would give the money back.  But Beaver River students are doing petition drives anyway, and they’re organizing a bus trip to Albany.  Teachers are voting on a salary freeze that would restore some positions.  And the board may still yet creep beyond the 5% tax increase they’re planning on asking from voters next month.

Asked if it’s weird to be raising money for her own schooling, seventh grader Kerrigan Mahoney doesn’t even blink.  She says no, she’s willing to fight.

For North Country Public Radio, I’m David Sommerstein in Beaver Falls.

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