Students, administration respond to rumors about budget revisions


Ruthann Baker

German students pose behind their Gingerbread houses in December. In addition to potential cuts in the Fine Arts Dept., German 1 is tentatively slated for removal next year.


In response to recent rumors about changes in course offerings during the 2015 – 2016 school year, students have taken a stand and administrators have offered clarification.

After hearing about potential cuts to 40 percent of programs in the Fine Arts Dept., students rallied together in support for art programs during the month of December. To protest the potential removal of theatre and art classes, junior Rachel Johnson even started a Facebook group, “Save NKHS Arts and Shaffer 2014.” Johnson also wanted to protect the teaching position of Mr. Robert Shaffer, an art teacher who was rumored to be at risk of losing his job.

Dr. Phil Auger, superintendent, said that contrary to rumors, art programs will not be cut by 40 percent. In addition, he is not looking to cut any drama classes.

Auger would only consider cutting courses with low enrollment. For example, one of Shaffer’s two sections of AP Studio Art drew Auger’s attention because the class has six students enrolled in it. (The other section has 18 students enrolled.) Each class offered should contain “at least 16 – 17 students, ideally” but less than 28 students, he said. Such class sizes both “allow students to take the courses that they want to” and “save money for the school district.”

However, the School Committee ultimately decides which programs are added or eliminated each year, Auger said. North Kingstown’s declining student population has played a major role in the committee’s decisions. Along with other administrators such as Dr. Denise Mancieri, interim principal, Auger can only present proposals and make recommendations to the School Committee in regards to the budget.

“The taxpayers of North Kingstown expect class sizes to be full, not classes with six or seven students in them,” Mancieri said. “It is easy to cut an FTE [full-time equivalency of a teaching position] on paper, but it is not easy to cut a person.” For this reason, she added, the school district prefers to eliminate positions when teachers move elsewhere or retire.

Although not as widespread as rumors about the Fine Arts Dept., students also heard about potential cuts to the German program in the World Language Dept. While neither Mancieri nor Auger fully confirmed or denied such cuts, Mancieri said that German 1 has not been included in the 2015 – 2016 Program of Studies. Also, Auger explained the nature of enrollment within the foreign language courses.

“We’re one of a few high schools in the state that offers four languages,” Auger said. Compared to Spanish, the most popular language offering, the French, German, and Portuguese programs have fewer students enrolled.

Auger has noticed that the higher level German language classes have not retained some of the students who started out in German 1 and German 2, the lower level courses. As a result, class sizes in the higher level German courses have been unusually small, he said.

To avoid small class sizes in the future, Auger said that he may eliminate the German program. However, NKHS would phase out the program over a series of several years, allowing students already enrolled in German to complete three to four years of study.

Auger will present his recommendations regarding the budget to the School Committee at its meeting on Jan. 27.* The available course offerings during the 2015 – 2016 school year will not be known for certain until mid-May, he added.

“This happens all the time,” Auger said, referring to proposed changes to the school budget. “It happens every year.”

Even so, the news of possible cuts to the Fine Arts Dept. brought many NKHS students together in support of art programs. As one of several students who created petitions to protest changes to arts programs, Johnson collected more than 70 signatures across a two-day span. Over 130 students joined the group she created on Facebook.

“Not only is art a way for students to discover themselves through a creative medium, but it’s also a path many people wish to pursue as a career,” Johnson said. “Removing an art program of any form is taking away a student’s opportunity to earn scholarships for college or pursue their interests.”

Freshman Audrey Swanson, one of the members of Johnson’s Facebook group, is especially passionate about the arts and theatre classes. Swanson believes that they greatly benefit a portion of the student body. “The entire art program at NK gives kids who can’t always be themselves on their own a chance to interact with others with the same interests and goals,” Swanson wrote in a comment on the Facebook page. “Theatre offers opportunities to act out and show the world what we can do… [I]f that is taken away, then I can assure you that… many hearts will be broken and [the futures of many students] would be at risk.”

This year, junior Erin Alexander completed her final project in Democracy, a semester-long civics course, about the importance of arts programs. Alexander also wanted to “improve advertising of arts-related events and get more people involved.”

“I’ve met all of my friends from being in the choir, doing backstage work in the fall play, and being in the musical productions,” Alexander said. “The programs [in the Fine Arts Dept.] have helped make me who I am today.”

*Note: This meeting was rescheduled to Feb. 3, 2015 due to inclement weather.