Granby students stage walkout to protest possible teacher layoffs

By Rebecca Mullen

For the Gazette

Published: 06-10-2017 12:28 AM

GRANBY — For the second consecutive year, Granby Junior/Senior High School students are protesting proposed budget cuts that, if approved, could mean the loss of several teaching positions in the district.

At 10:50 a.m. on Friday, the school’s nearly 300 students walked out of class to protest proposed cuts that would eliminate 10 teachers.

The walkout occurred during a break period for many students. Freshman Jordan Healy brought her cafeteria lunch with her. “We’re not protesting education, we’re protesting losing teachers,” she said.

The seventh- to eleventh-graders lined up along Route 202 holding handmade signs and cheering “save our staff!” Cars, truck and tractors honked and waved to show their support for the young protestors.

This year’s proposed school budget will be decided during Granby’s annual Town Meeting Monday. The Finance Committee’s recommendation calls for a fiscal 2018 school budget of $7,379,367, a 2.83 percent decrease from the current year’s $7,594,662. The cuts continue recent trend. In fiscal 2016, the budget was $8,033,580.

Granby School Committee Chairman Emre Evren said the School Department needs $691,000 more than the proposed budget, or slightly more than $8 million, to operate next school year at “level service,” meaning that the school can continue to offer the same extracurricular activities and classes, maintain its facilities and retain teachers.

At the Town Meeting, Evren plans to add a budget amendment on the floor that would allocate $395,000 from the town’s stabilization fund (budget surplus) to be added to the school’s budget.

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Additionally, voters at a special Town Meeting June 26 will decide on a $296,000 override for the school budget.

While the increase to the proposed budget looks large, Evren said that compared to neighboring districts, Granby spends far less on schooling. This decrease in spending combined with “School Choice” has contributed to a “vicious cycle” that has resulted in a 32.8 percent decrease in students enrolled in Granby schools.

“We are just trying to get to the point where we are keeping our students in Granby,” Evren said.

Town Finance Committee Chairman John Libera Jr. said that the decrease in student enrollment should mean that the school gets a smaller budget.

“This is what looks reasonable,” he said.

Libera also noted that the state mandated cost per student has increased from $8,104 in 2010 to $12,367 in 2017. He asked, “why is that more needed?”

Granby Superintendent Sheryl Stanton said the budget issue for the schools is longstanding and it’s going to be solved by the town, not just the School Committee.

“Every town member is a stakeholder,” she said. “We need to come together and ask these questions and solve the problem together.”

The superintendent also commended students for taking action on Friday.

At the walkout, juniors Alexis Strycharz and Conor Otto, who co-organized the event, said they were inspired by a 2016 walkout protesting similar proposed budget cuts that didn’t occur.

“To us, there’s not really another way,” Strycharz said.

Even though they aren’t old enough to vote at annual Town Meeting Monday, many students carried signs urging residents to attend the meeting and vote for a larger school budget.

“Students having a voice is very important,” Stanton said. “I certainly give kids credit for staying involved and advocating for their education.”

Granby’s annual Town Meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.