By Seth Daniel
Put on the tux, Mr. RHS will take bow this year after all.
After budget cuts threatened to cancel the annual Mr. RHS event this spring, School officials said this week that they have rethought the controversial cancellation and will allow that, and some other events, to take place – but Supt. Dianne Kelly said they must keep in mind the seriousness of crippling budget cuts that look to hit the schools next year.
“We have spoken to parents and students and the School Committee and decided that even with events like Mr. RHS which haven’t been scheduled, but are a traditional part of the school year will continue to go on,” she said. “We’re not trying to be nit picky. We want to be responsible. With the budget cuts coming next year, we can’t sit here and do nothing.”
The controversy started when school officials learned in January that a new formula from the federal government for low-income student designation was going to change – and that the state was not going to provide the “magic fix” that it promised in the summer of 2015. Now, more than 2,000 Revere students who were classified as low income, and in all reality are low income, are not classified in that way under the new formula. School districts do receive additional monies in their foundation budgets for the numbers of low-income students in their districts.
It is estimated that Revere will lose as much as $4 million from this year to next year if the new formula sticks in its current form.
That tragic news led to Kelly calling for all unscheduled events to be cancelled about three weeks ago in order to save money this year in expectation of next year’s dire situation.
One of the events was Mr. RHS.
A meeting on the matter at the high school about two weeks ago was very contentious between high school administrators, senior students and some parents. That boiling point led to a meeting of the minds, Kelly said.
“We talked with parents at all of the schools and agreed to get through this year and then plan in advance for next year,” said Kelly. “The challenge for parents is they had done a lot of work raising money and printing up programs and making plans and we didn’t want to devalue that work. The idea was to go forward this year and to plan ahead for what we can and cannot do next year.”
That said, Kelly reiterated it’s important for students, parents and staff to brace for what might be coming next year. She said there are about 2,227 students that she calls the “lost kids of Revere” who are poor, but technically in the eyes of the state will not be poor next year.
She said she had recently done an internal survey of these students with their principals to learn their personal stories.
With the names changed, she shared about a boy from a elementary school who started the school year seeing his father go to prison. His mother is a drug addict and the two had lived on other people’s couches until landing in a motel in Chelsea. The boy’s grades dropped, he began to get in fights and he was in crisis. The boy was sent to another family member to live, which helped matters, but he is still in crisis. Because he is abandoned and cannot prove he is on a federal welfare program, he will not be considered poor by the state for the purpose of budgeting.
“This is a child who knows what it is to worry about where his next meal will come from,” said Kelly. “We are glad to provide him with free meals through the federal subsidized lunch program, but the state does not consider him ‘economically disadvantaged.’ His principal at his school has identified 81 other the students who are part of this ‘lost poor.’”
She said the district, while trying to fight against the change, is also preparing in order to prevent layoffs of teachers and staff.
“We are trying to do this by attrition instead of with layoffs,” she said.
As for now, things like Mr. RHS will go on happily this year, but next year could be much more of a sad story.