Education News

Mt. Abe students rally around their teachers

AROUND TWO DOZEN Mount Abraham Union Middle School students and community members rallied in Bristol on Monday to show their support for district teachers and encourage residents to support the next budget proposal. Participating students said they’d like to see the district avoid cuts to teachers when drafting a third spending plan to put before voters.  Independent photo/Marin Howell

BRISTOL — In the wake of two failed budget votes, students in the Mount Abraham Unified School District are asking district officials to protect educators from potential cuts as they draft a third spending proposal to put before voters. 

Around two dozen Mount Abraham Union Middle School students and community members gathered on the Bristol Town Green on Monday to protest potential layoffs and encourage voters to support district teachers by passing the next budget proposal. 

“Our teachers are super important to us; they are the heart of our school and our education,” Trinity Croft, an eighth-grader at Mount Abe, told the Independent. “There is no education without our educators and there is no school without our teachers. That’s what this was all about, the community and showing (teachers) that they are supported.” 

Students’ pleas come after MAUSD voters twice shot down budget proposals this spring, rejecting a $37 million spending plan by 228 votes on Town Meeting Day and defeating a $35.9 million budget proposal by 57 votes on April 16. 

Without an approved budget for fiscal year 2025, district officials last month issued Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to 17 MAUSD teachers. The notices don’t necessarily mean those educators will lose their jobs, but rather reflect a “worst-case scenario” in which the district can’t pass a budget by July 1 and would be forced to operate with a budget equal to 87% of its current spending. The approved spending plan for the current year is $33,868,900. 

Tinsae Deas, an eighth-grader at Mount Abe, said she became concerned about potential staff cuts after learning the second budget proposal was defeated.  

“The fact that we could lose our teachers is just horrifying for me,” she said. “I’m not the only one who has bonded with and felt very attached to some of these teachers.” 

Deas said she discovered other students felt similarly and joined in on efforts to rally around district teachers after RIFs were issued. In addition to organizing Monday’s march, students have circulated a petition in support of teachers that’s garnered around 100 student signatures and spoken with Superintendent Patrick Reen and Mount Abe Principal Shannon Warden about their concerns. 

Deas added students hope to organize additional demonstrations in the district’s other member towns of New Haven, Starksboro and Monkton.  

Participants at the protest on Monday waved signs reading “Save our education” and “Vote yes to pass the budget.” Their efforts were met with frequent honks of support from drivers passing by. 

Students involved in the demonstration said they’d like district officials to listen to community members and avoid teacher layoffs when drafting the next budget proposal. 

“The solutions that they’re proposing aren’t necessarily working, and the community voting them down so many times, I think is saying something,” Deas said. “We need to think of a new perspective.” 

Deas added students are hoping more voters turn out for the next budget vote. She said administrators told students only 12% of eligible district voters weighed in on the most recent spending proposal. 

“Some people think ‘I don’t have a kid, so it doesn’t matter,’ but we’re all people, we’re all going through this,” Deas said. “The students, the teachers, the board has to make decisions that they might struggle with the guilt. I wish people would see that these are peoples’ lives.” 

Deas noted high school students at Mount Abe were organizing a walkout on Thursday, though middle schoolers were unable to take part in that effort. 

Other district students have expressed discontent over the RIF notices in recent weeks. Ahead of the second budget vote, a group of Mount Abe students stood before the MAUSD school board at its April 2 meeting and voiced concern over potential cuts to the arts department or other programs at the high school.   

“I speak from personal experience about the arts department as someone who is very connected to that department itself,” one student told the board. “As someone who wants to go into the arts as a career, it’s been extremely important to my education, and I feel that cutting these opportunities for students is not the right way to go about budgeting.” 

MAUSD officials last month provided some clarity on the RIF notices in Front Porch Forum posts shared by Reen and the MAUSD Board. In their posts, district officials noted the notices take into account the worst-case scenario and that there are around $500,000 worth of savings to achieve from other areas of the budget in that same scenario. 

The MAUSD board discussed a new FY’25 budget target at its meeting on Tuesday (see related story).

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