Somehow, despite the odds, many of the extra-curricular clubs slated to be cut at New Paltz Middle School have survived. This might come as a surprise to people without younger kids — because the budget approved by voters eliminated them.
So what saved them? It turns out to be a wellspring of charity. Behind the scenes, a number of individuals — including kids, teachers, parents and local businesses — have toiled to scrounge up donations and hold fundraisers to save arts programs for kids.
The SAVE Campaign at the middle school wanted to raise $7,060 to restore those clubs. It ended up raising nearly $8,500.
“We just started showing up,” explained Kim Sturgis, who helped organize SAVE with some of her fellow middle school teachers. “We had a talent show at the middle school, and we sold concessions. Once parents knew exactly what we were doing, they were donating money.”
In large part, SAVE — which stands for School Activities Are Vital to Education — got started because of students.
Earlier this year, New Paltz Central School District officials talked very candidly about the cuts they’d have to make. In the long run, they had trouble winning over a supermajority of voters to break the state tax cap with a $50.31 million budget. The May 15 vote failed by a scant 18 votes — with 1,726 yeses and 1,180 noes. June’s budget eventually did pass, leaving the schools with $50.12 million.
Last school year, that tension leading up to May’s vote left an indelible impression on middle schoolers. Bad news filtered out of the Board of Education meetings and into the classrooms.
“I run the Art Club, because I teach art here at the middle school — and this was while my club was going on,” Sturgis said. “And my kids were like, ‘What do you mean we’re not going to have Art Club? My parents were at a board meeting, and they told me Art Club’s cut.’”
Choir, art, magazine writing and instrumental band opportunities for the middle schoolers were all slated to vanish. Once kids and parents got involved, the turnaround was dramatic.
“We had one boy donate $300 of his own bar mitzvah money — and another boy donate $200 of his own money to save All-County Band and All-County Chorus,” Sturgis said. “I mean, these are things they’re passionate about. It was really incredible.”
Kristen Conrad, another SAVE organizer and a reading teacher at the school, noted that kids were coming up with as many ideas as they could.
“They were offering to make lemonade stands, for $0.25 a cup, and save the money,” Conrad said.
Parents already involved in campaigning to pass the supermajority budget also took notice. They took to Facebook and social media sites to promote SAVE and other fundraisers.
Art Club, the student magazine Reflections, All-County Chorus and All-County Band at the middle school were saved by SAVE’s $8,480. The middle school’s Rock & Soul Club was saved through a $3,800 donation from parents Doug and Teresa Thompson.
Others stepped forward to give. A few people gave the difference of they would have paid in taxes had the $50.31 million budget went through. The New Paltz Central School District Foundation for Student Enhancement gave $267 to support the high school’s Field Project.
Readers of this paper probably have noticed that Superintendent Maria Rice has heaped praise on the people who’ve made donations.
“Parents, staff and community members have rallied to fill the gaps left by cutbacks through their generous donations and fundraisers,” Rice wrote in a recent letter to the editor. “We are extremely grateful for your outpouring of support.”
Altogether the story of the people who gave to restore programs has been one of success. But there’s just one thing: they’re not done yet.
“We’re going to create a New Paltz Arts in the Schools Association, with a new fundraising goal of trying to save all of the fine and performing arts clubs that were cut throughout the district,” Sturgis said.
Creating NPASA for the road ahead
This summer, a new group modeled after an athletics association came into the picture. New Paltz Arts in the Schools Association — or NPASA — absorbed the old SAVE Campaign, bringing those people onboard and widening the focus.
Instead of just restoring middle school arts programs, they’re doing everything. Restoring those programs cut at Lenape Elementary School and New Paltz Central High School will take about $13,800 more.
Steve Casa, a parent who helped organize NPASA, said he felt that forming the group was a no-brainer.
“There’s no way to not form it,” Casa said. “The after-school arts programs that our kids have access to are as critical as any after-school program that we have in the district.”
For kids who aren’t ready to play basketball or get out on the sports field, art and music can be their only extra-curricular alternative. College-bound kids know that universities will look favorably on those extra activities.
“By not having them available to the kids, not only do we hurt the kids but we hurt our school district’s reputation,” he said. “Think about it. So you’re the admissions officer at Princeton, and you’ve got three kids: a kid from Cornwall, a kid from Red Hook and a kid from New Paltz. And the Cornwall and the Red Hook kid, they’ve got these arts programs after school. The New Paltz kid doesn’t. Who’re you taking?”
Casa said he felt that strong after-school programs were also key in attracting new families into the district. Parents who see a dearth of arts in the district might think twice about moving here.
A former school board vice president, KT Tobin, is also involved in the group. She admitted that budget cuts will make it difficult to keep these programs going.
“I’m acknowledging this means nothing for next year, but if these kids can have this one last year let’s make it happen,” Tobin said.
However, Casa noted that NPASA’s next mission after restoring those currently cut programs would be to start saving for future years.
“Everybody’s kind of in the same boat — we all recognize that there are these issues. The thing about NPASA is we’re trying to reinstate programs that were eliminated,” he said. “Once we reach that, once we’re able to do that the whole goal of our organization is to create sustainability in these programs. Because the next year they’re not going to be in the budget — and there’s probably going to be more cuts.”
Right now, NPASA has a relationship with an existing charity, the New Paltz Community Foundation. The foundation will hold all of NPASA’s money, which will give donors an immediate ability to write off what they give as a tax deduction.
The group has already raised some money — $1,233.22 to be exact. Musicians Seth Davis and Rhett Miller — who are also parents of students in the New Paltz schools — gave free concerts benefitting NPASA.
In the future, there will be more to come. Look for NPASA fundraising at the Celebration of the Arts on Oct. 6. Check them out online by searching for them on Facebook. You can also e-mail directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.