Budget Cuts Nearly Draw Curtain On A High School Musical

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Students and parents at Hull High School raised money on their own for their production of "Guys and Dolls," above. (Courtesy Jeannie Hulverson)
Students and parents at Hull High School raised money on their own for their production of "Guys and Dolls," above. (Courtesy Jeannie Hulverson)

In March, after municipalities were told to prepare for up to a 4 percent cut in state money in the new fiscal year, WBUR took a tour of the region to see how communities are dealing with budget cuts. WBUR continues the tour over the next couple of months, beginning with Fred Thys in Hull.

HULL, Mass.-- When you walk into Hull High School, it looks like your basic, well-worn, modernist 1960s high school.

But step into the theater, and it's magnificent. It has a huge stage that includes giant wheels on the floorboards for turning sets.

By the time the students step onto that stage, many of them have been at school for 15 hours. Once classes are over, they stay for sports practice. They do their homework, and now they're doing what they love most.

Brittany Jenkins plays Mimi and a Hot Box Girl.

"So theater's pretty much my life, and I love it," she said. "It's the most rewarding and meaningful thing that I do. I know we have to work really hard for it, but it's really worth it in the end."

Brittany talked about how they had to earn the money that keeps the theater program alive.

"We've sold jewelry," she said. "We've sold anything you can even thing of — T-shirts, pizzas, pies in the face, car washes, candles. We do raffles, reptiles and magic shows."

The Budget Cuts

The school committee cut the entire budget for theater this year, so the students raised $30,000 with the help of their parents, including Tammy Petrucelli and Lisa Jenkins, Brittany's mom.

"This year we had to raise enough funds to actually pay the stipends for all the staff of the drama program, which includes the director, the stage person," Jenkins said.

The town of Hull is considering an override that will allow a signficant increase in property taxes. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
The town of Hull is considering an override that would allow for a signficant increase in property taxes. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

"The orchestra," Petrucelli adds.

"We were able to do that through many, many fund-raisers," Jenkins said. "Leaf raking, leaf raking, leaf raking and leaf raking. We have weeks of leaf raking."

Most of the mothers have regular jobs, too. Plus, there are theater's other demands.

"We do sewing. We do props. We do makeup," listed Jenkins.

The parents talk by the plastic palm trees used in the musical's Havana scenes. They don't anticipate raising the entire budget for theater again next year.

"We're hoping for the override to go through," Jenkins said.

The Override

Unless voters override Proposition 2 1/2, towns can't raise property taxes by more than 2.5 percent in Massachusetts. If Hull doesn't raise property taxes, there won't be any money for theater.

Next month, the town will vote, and theater parents Maggie Ollerhead, Petruccelli and Jenkins are counting on the override so that they and their children don't have to raise the money by themselves all over again.

"How many yards did we rake? 65 yards?" Petrucelli asked. "It went on for weekend after weekend."

Jenkins and the other moms have a month to persuade the town it's worth raising the property taxes for their kids and their theater program.

Ollerhead is ready to push for it.

"We wouldn't do it if we didn't believe in what the kids were doing. These kids have so much fun. They don't settle for mediocrity," she said. "They have a high standard and they stay to that level. And they're bored when they don't have a show. In the two weeks between auditions and shows, they can't wait to audition again."

A scene from "Guys and Dolls." (Fred Thys/WBUR)
A scene from "Guys and Dolls." (Fred Thys/WBUR)

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This program aired on April 9, 2010.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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