|A fifth grade student asks with the school board members to keep the elementary band program in place during the district's last public meeting. A debate regarding the elimination of the sixth grade band program took center stage at the meeting. Band supporters showed up in numbers to protest the decision.|
The monthly school board meeting was conducted at Helper Junior High before a concerned residents on April 10. An unusually large crowd attended to protest the elimination of sixth grade band program at most of the elementary schools in the district. The decision was made recently by the board members.
The decision was made mainly because of strong budget cuts that have been made by the state legislature. These budget cuts, along with a decrease in students enrolling into the Carbon School District system, leaves the board with a tough duty at hand, budget cuts. This decision is just the beginning of a long journey to reduce the district's budget.
According to school board members, next year is going to be a tight one in terms of finances. With the decrease of funds, the board is looking at an estimate of $600,000 less to work with when considering decisions within the district.
The first step in decreasing expenditures is by cutting teachers. It is expected that the district will need to reduce its fleet of teachers by letting 15 educators go next year. The figure, however, is preliminary. More teachers may be cut by the beginning of next school year.
Since the district is being forced to reduce spending and begin saving extra costs, some programs are at risk of being cut, including sixth grade band. Maintaining the reason for the elimination of the program at most of the schools is not quite clear, baffled parents, students and supporters are trying to find the answer.
When the board decided to reduce the program, the officials looked at the fact that band had a minimal amount of participants. School district superintendent David Armstrong researched the matter and found that only 14 percent of the students at Mont Harmon participate in band, while Helper Junior High has 40 percent of its students participating in the program. Also, 35 percent of students at Westridge are enrolled in the band program, and by the time students reach the high school, numbers decrease, with only 11 percent of the student body participating in the program. According to Armstrong, the numbers prove that band is not a necessary program.
"The numbers show that students decrease interest as they advance in school. The figures show that by high school, few participate in the program," explained Armstrong.
"The strongest participation in the district is at Helper, therefore, we have decided to keep the sixth grade band there. At Mont Harmon, however, the numbers drop drastically, saying that in junior high, these students do not follow through with the program," continued Armstrong.
The dismal numbers seem to be the best explanation for eliminating the program. Although the band courses will remain at the junior high level, the sixth grade programs seem to be the only ones affected by the decision, besides East Carbon High.
It has been decided to start a band at the East Carbon school, which currently is a non-existent program. Longtime band instructor James Dart will be required to travel daily to and from East Carbon to instruct the course. The option seems ludicrous to band supporters who feel that the budget will only hurt by paying the travel expenses for the instructor to move back and forth to teach a program that is unknown whether it will sink or swim.
Band supporters feel that the money would be better spent by keeping the sixth grade band as it is. According to supporters, the program has proved to be a success, whereas the East Carbon aspect has not been proven.
Several members of the community, particularly past and present members of the music departments, stood before the packed crowd to address the board with their concerns regarding the elimination of the sixth grade band program.
Dart started the discussion by explaining that by beginning band in seventh grade, "the students will have a disadvantage" when entering programs at a high school level.
"Why compromise the integrity of Carbon High band by eliminating this program?" asked Dart. He addressed the fact that space is not an issue in the matter.
"We have practiced on the stage in the past, and if need be, we will do it again," said Dart. Keeping the band "is in the best interest of the patrons and the students."
"I am ethically and morally opposed" to the elimination of sixth grade program, commented Carbon High band instructor Paul Brown. Brown feels that forcing the students to begin a year later, will lower the participants skills, therefore dropping the "competition level."
"Arts is also in the core academic schedule. I assume that there could be cuts made elsewhere, other than in a core program. I want evidence that the cut is in the best interest of the students and the community. This is absolutely unreasonable," Brown concluded.
Although most of the band supporters are parents of band students or music instructors, many outraged community members also oppose the elimination of the program.
"I was not prepared for this. It came as a shock. Nobody knew that the idea of banning the sixth grade band program was even being thought of," pointed out Neil Breinholt, local music instrument distributor.
"Music has educational value," added Breinholt. "I not only respect music, but also its benefits. I have supplied instruments to the community for over 17 years and I know what to stock and when. Usually, parents are reluctant when purchasing instruments, but most of the time, they don't come back. In fact, in sixth grade is when students become the most interested in band, and most of the time, the student remains interested for a lifetime in music. Those who participate in band also usually have higher grade point averages than those who do not. Program cuts only hurt students. Particular program cuts only cut particular students," explained Breinholt.
Judge Boyd Bunnell lightened the tense moment with his comment
"My grandson participates in band and has for many years, including in sixth grade. He also belongs to some rock band that I can't understand what their even singing. By keeping the band intact in the sixth grade, it allows students to explore these music endeavors, and it just may keep them away from that other stuff that is called music. Most of the students who participate in band are good kids, and they won't become a juvenile court case. Music teaches discipline and hard work," stated Judge Bunnell.
Audience members asked why the board did not cut extracurricular activities instead of curricular programs like band.
Although the board and the school administration are just starting to look at school programs and begin the hard decision as to what cuts can be made, it seems as if the issue of sixth grade band may be one of consideration of reinstatement. Board members appeared somewhat sceptical about cutting the program entirely. In fact, the officials expressed a similar directive about looking into the matter and seeing what can be done to resolve the issue.
"Band promotes several different things, including involvement, discipline, hard work, and it promotes good grades," explained board member Samuel Chiara.
Chiara pointed out that the matter was decided upon without any statistics or information regarding the positive aspects of band.
"I feel that the board will be voting on this topic in the future. I don't want to micro-manage. We need to look at this in terms of test scores and money," concluded Chiara.
Student board member Emily Hall spoke in favor of keeping the band program as it is.
"Band teaches discipline. You can't cheat in band. In fact, band members are well rounded students," said Hall.
"Some of the best students we have in the district are band members," explained board member Mike Magliocco. "I believe we should focus on desire and attitude. This may be accomplished through the band program."
No official actions have been made to reverse the decision to eliminate the sixth grade band program.
Addressing an unrelated matter, the school board indicated that the sale of $3 million in bonds was put on the buying market on April 10.
The results were positive, with 10 companies bidding on the bonds. The winning bid was submitted by a firm from Virginia who offered a rate of 4.53 percent on the bonds.
The school board will now decide whether to sign the contract of sale by April 25, which is expected to happen without much ado.
In addition, the board of education approved the appointment of two members to the tax entity committee. Armstrong and William Jewkes were named to the panel.
As members of the committee, Armstrong and Jewkes will represent the school district as part of the county taxing entity, where members make decisions on approval of redevelopment projects.
The board of education also agreed to help support members of FCCLA and science fair winners that have qualified to travel to national competitions.
Carbon High students Alisha Martinez and Bradley Bunnell will both be allowed to travel to Louisville, Ky., on May 12-18 to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair. The two students participated in state and regional science fairs and have advanced to the international competition.
Shanielle Howa, who took home first place honors in the job interview event, and Trisha Zorn who finished in first place at the state competition in career investigation, have earned the honor of traveling to Minneapolis, Minn., to compete in the national FCCLA convention July 5-12.
All four students were granted permission by the school board to travel to the venues and compete in the prestigious events, along with financial support from the district.
A fee waiver was also granted at the board meeting to allow Castle Heights school grounds to be used by the 4-H club.
The club will present its annual Super Saturday on April 27. The event is aimed at preventing tobacco use in youth. The activity includes presentations on the importance of not using tobacco and also allows participants to use Carbon County Recreation's climbing wall.
In addition, the board approved the payment of repairs that are needed in construction projects at local schools. The repairs were ones that appeared as construction advanced, minor repairs that were not known at the time of the initial bid for repairs.
The amount needed to cover the repairs totaled $21,615, money that remains in the contingency funds for the construction projects.
Deon Kone, the head of maintenance at Carbon School District, informed the board that construction is moving along well.
The buildings are now finished, with the exception of the exterior work that remains.
Mont Harmon has moved classes into some of the additions to allow movement of the portable units on the school grounds. The remainder of the additions will not be opened until next year at the remainder of the schools.
In a student achievement related action, the school board handed out certificates to all who participated in the Sterling Scholar program.
The participating local students competed at the state level.
Finally, the board listened to bids given by several construction firms to finish the minor repairs to the schools.
Repairs are needed at Helper Junior High and Westridge.
The bids will be reviewed by school district officials. The decision as to which company will be awarded the repair project will be reached after the low bid is determined.
The school district meets the second Wednesday of the month and the public is welcome to attend.