When I was a freshman in college down in Rhode Island, I was having a conversation with a fellow Massachusetts student. He asked, “So where are you from?” I replied, “Norwood.”
He threw his hands up in mock terror, and said, “Whoa… you going to punch me in the face now?” Outloud I said, “No! What are you talking about?”
But internally, I scanned him from head to toe, and thought, “Maybe....”
We Norwoodians have a bit of a reputation. We have never been known to walk away from a fight. Our town seal represents the colonial Norwoodian, Captain Aaron Guild. When threatened by the British, he dropped his plow, and walked to Lexington to protect what was his. He is the first person on record to fight for his Norwood. Now it is time for the rest of us to drop what we are doing, and fight for our Norwood.
Parents, I’m sure you know by now that our school department is facing a catastrophic budget shortage. The cuts will negatively impact every single student who attends Norwood public schools. And as a person on the inside, I can tell you honestly that things are bare bones now. We can not accept a budget cut. We simply have to say “NO.” We have to fight to protect what’s ours.
I know a lot of you think the answer is to go in front of the School Committee and tell them how important trumpet lessons, or football, are to the overall development of our children. And I don’t disagree... but things are far more dire than that.
Many of us watched the School Committee meeting last night, and were overwhelmed by the amount of emotion, and concern that filled the room. I applaud the kids who went out and advocated for their beloved programs. I empathize with the parents and alumni who passionately explained what a difference these programs have made, not only in the immediate school experience but well beyond the doors of Norwood High School.
There were some really touching and inspirational stories, and I agree that the fine arts change kids for the better. The arts inspire, and foster intellect and creativity. The research is solid. Kids who have the fine arts in their lives will do better academically.
But the budget is a disgrace as a whole. The School Committee’s hands were forced to make cuts to any part of the budget. I think hyper focus on the fine arts takes the spotlight off the fact that the entire budget is not nearly adequate.
The School Committee members were subjected to five hours of people talking about their honors students and their cello lessons and art awards, and they listened to some highly individualized stories about the needs of our most elite students. These parents thought nothing of slashing transportation or full-day kindergarten. The fear that some kids might go to school and be (gasp) bored seemed less of a concern than that some kids might not go to school at all.
Although an excellent lesson in Civics, and every citizen's rights, going in front of the School Committee was a collective waste of time. The members could not wipe a tear from their eyes, and say, “You’re right! All music, art, TV, and drama programs are reinstated effective right now!” They couldn’t even engage in dialogue with the citizens. The School Committee can only create a budget with the money they have. And they simply do not have the money. And if a million people stood in front of them and talked about how important the music program was, it still would not have made a difference last night.
The School Committee has been responsive, and as some of you spit your venom and anger in their direction, and are “sickened” and accuse them of ridiculous things like “not caring” and “abandoning” the students, perhaps you should step back from your own self directed concerns and consider the much larger and serious picture.
There are kids in Norwood who are not naturally talented. They don’t take honors art and physics and play four instruments and soccer. They don’t eat breakfast. They don’t have parents who stay at home, or drop them off each day in a shiny Honda Odyssey. There are kids with very real, very dire needs, and not only do they deserve the advocacy and the resources of the school budget, they deserve it a little bit more.
I am concerned and very saddened by the loss of fine arts. Jack Tolman articulated it best when he said, "There are clases kids have to take, and classes kids want to take.” The music, TV, art, drama, athletics… those breathe life into the buildings, and into the town overall. These are the things that create individuals; the things that change a life. We should be sad and angry and very concerned about the loss, as well as the empty state-of-the-art science lab, and diminishing foreign language programs. We should be concerned about a lack of technology teaching staff. The large picture is bleak.
When teachers lose their jobs, class sizes soar, and resources are absent. I can’t adequately explain how significant this impact will be. The snowball effect of a poor school system will roll over every single person living in Norwood. By neglecting our schools, you are subjecting Norwood to the fate of other underprivileged towns.
Norwood is not the town it was a generation ago. Life is more complicated, expensive, and dangerous. If you want a nice town, well, you have to pay for it. You have to be able to afford police officers, and a good school system, and nice, safe places for kids to grow up and play. But Norwood historically doesn’t want to pay for that.
To be quite frank, Norwood is being sabotaged by people who refuse to accept the fact that a nice life costs a little extra. Too many voters assume that their responsibility to contribute to the schools is over. Too many voters are more concerned with their own wallets than the overall good of the community.
And shame on them.
Norwood is dying right in front of us, and we need to fight. We need to fight selectmen who say things like, “That's not very Norwood,” when new businesses are proposed. What’s "not very Norwood" in my opinion are empty storefronts, dilapidated triple deckers, and liquor stores. We need to raise taxes. We need to pay for our trash pick-up. We need to fight for our quality of life, and we need to fight harder and louder than the people who have put their own self interests ahead of our children.
The School Committee can only create a budget with the money they are given. So before you shoot the messenger, or assume that there is anything callous about their thinking or decision making, put yourself in their position. The committee is comprised of people who VOLUNTEER their time. Who sought out this posititon because they are concerned about the schools, and most importantly the children inside of them. The School Committee has taken the beating from the rest of town government for the past two years, and it needs to stop. Don’t let a few people who want to be miserly with taxes and fees determine our quality of life. It is yours, it is mine, it is ours. Let's go get it back.
Citizens, you let your selectmen know that you want Norwood back. You let them know that underfunding the schools is unacceptable. Tell the Financial Committee to mind their business and respect the bottom line. Let our town manager know that you are willing to pay for your quality of life. Norwood can't sit back and remember how things used to be... because they aren’t like that anymore. The world has changed, and we need to change with it.
This is actually crisis level. Decide right now if you are really for Norwood. Decide if you wil drop everything like good old Aaron Guild and fight.
People to contact: Finance Commission: Judith Langone, Chairperson; John Hayes, Vice Chair; Joseph Greeley; Thomas Maloney; Alan Slater
Call the Town Hall, and make your concerns known. Call, write, email your selectmen and town meeting members. Let’s get that override on the ballot. Let's save our schools and our kids, and the things that make Norwood a great place to grow and learn and live.