AUGUSTA — Students and city residents pleaded with the school board on Wednesday not to eliminate Latin from Cony High School or band from the elementary schools.
Augusta Public Schools administrators proposed both reductions as part of the $27.6 million budget they’ve presented to the school board.
The school board’s budget workshop on Wednesday started with a period for public input that stretched to 90 minutes as about 30 people spoke up for the Latin and band programs, the only two pieces of the budget addressed with public input.
Gretchen Livingston, chairwoman of the district’s world languages department, said the department has shrunk at a much faster rate than the district’s enrollment, and there will be only 4.5 teachers left if one is cut.
“Latin has been part of Cony’s curriculum since the beginning,” she said. “We ask that you honor this tradition and keep Latin at Cony.”
Livingston said Cony also could lose tuition-paying students to schools such as Gardiner Area High School and Erskine Academy that do offer Latin.
Latin teacher Sarah Moore said students emerge from her class as better writers and speakers of English because Latin provides the roots for half of the words in English language and is the basis of much of English grammar.
Supporters of the Latin program also said that studying Latin helps students score higher on the SAT and gives them a foundation for careers in medicine and the law.
Rob Tenney, a chiropractic doctor and Ciara Tenney’s father, said he recently saw a new patient whose paperwork listed a condition unfamiliar to him, but its four-word Latin name enabled him to figure it out.
His daughter, Cony sophomore Ciara Tenney, said English teachers always told her not to use passive voice, but she never really understood what that meant until taking Latin, which also enriches her life in less obvious ways.
“I feel awesome when I can read old inscriptions on buildings and I don’t need to use a translator or read a caption,” she said. “I don’t know; I just enjoy that.”
The proposal to eliminate band in elementary school would not affect the general music program that’s offered for all students. Fifth- and sixth-graders who chose to participate in band are pulled from class to receive lessons in small groups and then play together as a full band once a week. That takes place during recess at three of the city’s four elementary schools.
People who spoke in favor of elementary school band said delaying band until seventh grade would weaken Augusta’s entire program. It would reduce the difficulty of the repertoire Cony students are able to play and make them less able to compete for spots in district and state honors bands or in college music programs, they said.
Supporters included current high school students, alumni who graduated from Cony years ago and fifth-graders who want to continue playing in band next year.
Cony sophomore Patrick Greene said band gave him a reason to want to go to school and a way to connect with other students.
“Some people would be recognized for good grades or attendance, but that was not me,” he said. “Getting recognized through band gave me the encouragement to keep pushing myself in school.”
Greene said he was proud to play for the City Council in sixth grade and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in eighth grade.
Junior Sydney Sansouci said she was always excited about Thursdays, band day in elementary school, and now loves being able to start her school day with band.
“As a girl who never really fit in, the band room is one place I always felt safe and at home,” she said. “I wouldn’t have as many friends as I do now. I speak for my band family, who all feel the same way.”
The proposed budget increases spending by about $185,000, or 0.7 percent. Because of less anticipated revenue, however, it would increase local taxes by about 4.9 percent.
Superintendent James Anastasio said to reach the $27.6 million budget, $728,000 in programs or staff would either be cut or not added. Latin and elementary school band represent about $150,000 of that.
Other things that are not part of the budget include the drafting program at the Capital Area Technical Center, several in-building and grounds projects, up to 10 percent of the supplies budget at each building and a grade’s worth of HP laptops.
Several people who spoke said they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to keep Latin and elementary school band, and school board Chairwoman Susan Campbell urged them to take that message to the City Council.
“We make decisions about programming,” she said. “City Council makes decisions about taxes.”