Editor’s note: This story was published exclusively in The Jefferson Chronicle DIGEST magazine prior to being made available online. To receive the DIGEST magazine when it is released digitally, subscribe free.
The corridors of Jefferson Township High School (JTHS) filled with a sea of red shirts, awaiting the start of the Board of Education (BOE) public budget hearing on April 29.
A social media rumor had spread like wildfire about a week before the meeting, alleging that there were no plans to hire a full-time band director after the retirement of Richard Barrieres this year. Gossip included the assertion that the position would effectively become part-time because the director would teach classes in addition to band. As a result of the online buzz, the high school media room was flooded with parents, students, teachers, and non-residents who support the band program. Nearly all wore red in solidarity.
Howe Addresses the Elephant in the Room
Although Superintendent Jeanne Howe had posted a letter to the BOE website days earlier in an attempt to dispel the rumors, it was evident by the attendance that the message had little effect on the community. After presentations and school updates, Howe addressed the issue head-on by stating, “Consistently since the 2013-14 school year, and periodically before then, the band director has taught classes other than symphonic band.”
She added that music theory will not be offered in the upcoming year due to insufficient enrollment in the course, despite a meeting held with students who were recommended for Advanced Placement music theory to encourage them to sign up. The 2019-20 budget includes funds for a full-time band director and a certified and qualified teacher of music will be sought, according to Howe.
The superintendent also told the crowd that the district purchased more than $100,000 worth of new equipment, and some old instruments will be replaced with new ones. Given budget concerns for the future, the administration decided to acquire the instruments now.
What Is the Budget Bottom Line?
The total tax levy is $43,163,523 and debt service is $2,379,325 for the school year 2019-20. The average increase to taxpayers is $86.53 a year, which includes the first payment of the principal and interest. Because the cost of the referendum was less than the projected $5 per month, the combined cost of the referendum and tax levy to an average homeowner is $7.21 per month.
There was a long pause before public comments commenced. Council member Jay Dunham was the first to the microphone where he told the board he was “pleasantly surprised” at the low increase, given the severe reductions in state aid.
Peter Tummillo, former JTHS band director from 1979-05, said, “No matter how you spin this, if you had five teachers going to two schools, and now you have four, you have lost a teacher.” Despite the board’s instructions that comments were limited to three minutes, when Tummillo was cut off in the middle of his speech, the audience erupted with shouts of “That’s disrespectful” and some profanity.
High school junior Christine Bartley read a letter describing the accomplishments of current and former band members. She presented a petition with more than 4,500 signatures in defense of the current state of the music program with a full-time band director.
The board extended the allotted time for public comment by approximately 30 minutes to allow more attendees to speak. Many others came to the lectern to express their past and present love of the band, the resulting community involvement, and its effects on their lives.
What Does the Future Hold?
The district lost more than $1 million in state aid this year, and by the 2024-25 school year, the district will lose about $7 million. Business administrator Dora Zeno told attendees that the annual upgrades to student laptops will be suspended until funding improves. The purchase of two new district buses is postponed, although they are typically replaced after eight or nine years. Because of the referendum passed in October 2018, most of the facilities improvement projects are not affected.
Howe told The Jefferson Chronicle, “Some programs have been cut due to lack of enrollment in the courses. These programs include guitar and creative writing at the middle school. Additionally, some staff members’ positions have been eliminated due to decreased enrollment.” One such position, she said, is the guitar instructor at the middle school (not the band director at the high school).
Zeno expressed hope for a change in the course of state aid, but under current circumstances, the board will be challenged to find additional cuts to offset the loss of state assistance.
Howe reiterated that “the full-time band director position is and always has been included in the budget for the 2019-20 school year.” She stated that Dan Gugger, who currently teaches music at the middle school, was selected as the new high school band director; his transfer was approved at the May Board of Education meeting. “We have not yet appointed any staff for our co-curricular activities; I am hoping to have all advisors on next month’s agenda,” she added. “As of right now, there are two band classes available for the next school year. This is one less than the current year due to the number of students enrolling in the course.”
The budget was unanimously approved by the board.