Bristol Warren school board rejects budget cuts, setting up one final vote

Committee to meet Monday to vote; fate of theatre program up in the air

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/10/21

The fate of the Mt. Hope High School theatre program will remain up in the air for one more week, after school committee members on Monday night overwhelmingly rejected Supt. Jonathan Brice's …

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Bristol Warren school board rejects budget cuts, setting up one final vote

Committee to meet Monday to vote; fate of theatre program up in the air

Posted

The fate of the Mt. Hope High School theatre program will remain up in the air for one more week, after school committee members on Monday night overwhelmingly rejected Supt. Jonathan Brice's recommendation that they cut $2.3 million from the district's operating budget for the 2021-22 school year.

Dr. Brice's budget request, which would see the elimination of nearly 25 full-time teaching positions and cut programs and services across the board to close a budget deficit, also includes the elimination of the Mt. Hope High School theatre director. Since news broke last Thursday that director Nick Mendillo's position would be eliminated, school committee members have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, and an online petition to save the position started by a Mt. Hope High School student has so far received more than 2,000 signatures.

Hundreds of current and fellow students logged on to Monday's meeting in support of the program and Mr. Mendillo, and seven of nine school committee members said during the 90-minute budget discussion that they cannot support the budget cuts as presented.

"Please consider the hundreds of other students with stories like mine and what this would mean for them," Mt. Hope student Mia Fartura, of Bristol, said.

Mia said she has suffered with depression and anxiety for years, and "I spent many days telling myself it was too hard to live, and I couldn't do it anymore. Then the Masqueraders came into my life. The Mt. Hope Masqueraders is a community that will accept anyone and everyone that walks in the door. Mr. Mendillo and the Masqueraders have saved my life in more ways than one."

Vicki Boyle, who oversees performing arts in the district, implored committee members to reject the cuts to the program, as well as cuts to the music department at Kickemuit that are also included in Dr. Brice's recommendation.

"These cuts will have a devastating effect on the overall performing arts in Bristol Warren," she said. For the past year and a half, theatre and music students here have been unable to hold concerts, plays, and attend parades. Now, "Bristol Warren is proposing to take away the one thing these students need most. Our middle school needs to have a chorus, our high schoolers need to have a theatre program, now more than ever."

When it came time for school committee members to speak, seven of nine said they would not support and would vote against the budget cuts as written. Only chairwoman Marge McBride and Victor Cabral said they support them as is.

"I cannot possibly be objective speaking about this," said committee member Sarah Bullard. "There are 321 people in this meeting. A lot of the students that spoke tonight are kids that I've directed myself, (who) started out as quiet and shy, and blossomed over the course of weeks and who now, three or four years into an academic theatre program at Mt. Hope High School, are remarkable young adults who are eloquent and passionate. These kids aren't giving up and we can't give up on them. This is a diamond in the crown of Mt. Hope High School."

"We need to find a way to get (theatre) back into the operating budget," added member Erin Schofield of Warren. "I know it's not going to be easy. I guess we're all going to have to dig a little deeper and figure it out."

The decision to delay a vote on the cuts until next Monday, May 17 puts the committee in a tight spot, as by law certified teachers who are to be laid off must be informed by June 1. With one school committee meeting left before that vote, Ms. McBride told her fellow school committee members that "you have one week to figure out what you would rather cut. Because next Monday night, if we have to sit here for five hours, we'll sit here for five hours."

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