Barring a reversal or the appearance of a heretofore hidden benefactor, students won’t be going “Up the Down Staircase” at Spring Valley High School this fall, as the district has ordered an additional 25 percent cut from the budget in co-curricular programs, doubling the cuts that were set in place last June.
The co-curricular budget covers salaries for advisers for after-school clubs and programs.
Among the programs to be cut at Spring Valley were the dance club, the service-oriented Key Club, and the fall play, which was to be performed by the school’s International Thespian Society Troupe #721 on the last week of November.
Thespian adviser Stacey Roth Tirro said today’s planned first rehearsal of the play was replaced by an emergency meeting of the Thespian troupe, the only branch of the international honor society in a public high school in Rockland County, to announce that the fall play was canceled.
“They reacted exactly how I reacted,” she said. “They were dumbfounded. Thespians is and honor society and one of the school’s strongest clubs. It’s a legacy. This troupe has been around for more than 60 years.”
Canceling the production puts the troupe in peril, as the by-laws require a minimum number of new students be inducted into the group each year. Cutting half of the productions makes it harder to qualify new members, all of whom must take part in various aspects of theater, not just acting, but also technical work.
“And our spring musical is not safe,” Tirro said. “If there are more cuts coming down the pike, we’ll have problems. If the musical doesn’t happen, we’re done.”
The budget savings realized by cutting the play amount to about $9,000, Tirro estimated, covering the salaries of director, producer and technical director.
“It’s the kind of thing where I’d say, ‘I’ll do it for free, but I can’t do that. I’ve been paid for it for 15 years and this is my living. It’s my livelihood.’”
The students didn’t take the news well at the emergency meeting in Tirro’s classroom, the school’s dance studio and an after-school gathering place, Tirro said: “There was stunned silence, and then there were tears.”
Dance club, another group overseen by Tirro, who teaches dance at the school, was also cut. She said students in the club, many of whom don’t take her dance classes because of scheduling conflicts, annually perform in the spring concert.
“Last spring, I had 50 kids on that stage,” she said. “I wondered how I was going to fit them all up there, but we did it.”
Tirro said the cuts come on top of already deep cuts announced last June.
“We were already pretty much at a breaking point and (principal) Karen (Pinel) told me ‘I had no choice.’ She’s devastated as well,” Tirro said.
“Up the Down Staircase,” the canceled play, involves an English teacher who takes a job in an inner-city and fights bureaucracy, unmotivated students and incompetent colleagues. Disillusioned, she prepares to take a job at a private school, until she learns that she has made a difference in the lives of her students and decides to stay.
“I’m horrified,” Tirro said. “I’ve been trying to process it all day. I found out at 9 a.m. and had to teach and not tell everyone all day.
“I know the district has financial problems, but what are you doing to the school? You’re crushing the heart and soul of it. These kids are not going to want to come to school. They won’t have anything to look forward to.”