Dozens of students in Hannibal High School taped their mouths shut for the day Wednesday and staged a silent after-school protest in the village square against possible budget cuts that could claim their sports teams, bands, choruses and art classes.
Students say they came up with the idea of a silent protest. They put a small tape logo over their mouths and sat silently in class after class, said students Zach Welling and Kate Sullivan, two of the students who helped organize the day of protest.
“We participated with head gestures or writing answers on paper,” said Welling. Sullivan said that in her Spanish class, only three students were not part of the protest. “It was no disrespect to the teachers,” she said. “We just wanted them to know how we feel.” Welling said the group sent letters to teachers to let them know about the protest and to say it was not aimed at them.
Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio recently walked the Board of Education through a disastrous budget scenario for 2010-11. He said the district could cut every program not required by law and the money saved would cover only about half of the Governor’s cut in state aid to Hannibal. Those cuts included some education programs for low-scoring and advanced students, clubs and activities such as the yearbook, prom and senior trip, but also would eliminate school sports, the music program and most art classes.
School officials have been told time and again that they’ll be lucky if the proposed cut is the only cut they suffer; more cuts are possible. At the same time, local lawmakers are trying to press the state to change the formula that imposed such a heavy cut on Hannibal, a land-poor district.
After all of the cuts in DiFabio’s worst-case scenario, it would still require a 20% tax increase to fill the remaining $800,000 gap.
The athletic booster club has already told the school district that it will not try to raise funds to save school sports if they’re cut this year. The district has approached its unions, seeking contract concessions to help fill some of the massive gap.
Against that backdrop, athletes, musicians and artists joined the protest. “One of the signs today said ‘Cut our sports, cut our arts, cut our voices’,” Welling said.
Without sports, music and art, “It’s gonna crush us,” Sullivan said.
The group, called Save Our School, is planning other activities, though nothing specific has been set yet.