Board will look at restoring JF band position; no promises made

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By Tom Wilmoth

The consequences of raising the class sizes in Bedford County Public Schools—eliminating about 70 positions throughout the school system—continue to confront the Bedford County School Board.

    For the  second  meeting  in  a  row,  board members heard from supporters of the Jefferson Forest High School band program, asking that a band instructor position, eliminated in the cuts, be restored. That position is shared by the high school and Forest Middle School.
    Taylor Cox, a senior at JF, said students are proud of the band program at the school, adding that the program helps build leaders.
    “We’ve built up this giant building, thriving, full of people,” Cox stated.”Now part of that foundation has been taken away. Rebuilding an entire building takes far longer than rebuilding just a small part of it." 
    Cox urged the board to restore the lost position “before the whole foundation falls back down. Without such a strong program we’re not able to send out as strong leaders as we once did.”
    Sarah Barnes, a senior in the band program, said she had been in band since sixth grade. “It’s really important that we have that one-on-one attention,” she said of the need for the additional position. “That’s one of the reasons I stuck with clarinet. It helped a lot.”
    Barnes said a music theory class is only being offered now as an independent study course and that the middle school program has lost the ability to split up its classes.
    Sam Chalker, a sophomore at JF, said the students in the band program “love to see it succeed,” agreeing that individual attention is important. She noted that the various band programs all received superior ratings at festival last year. She said the added position allows for more attention to be shown to the groups as they prepare for the competition.
    “That’s a big part of the reason we were able to do so well at festival, because we were able to split up,” she said.
    Dr. Mac Duis, director of instruction for the school system, said the decision to cut the band position was made at the recommendation of the principals in conjunction with  Central Office staff.
    He said the total number of band students in each zone is not equal, with FMS having considerably more students involved than the middle schools in the other zones. Each zone has two band instructors and Duis said responsibilities of those teachers take on different configurations.
    “It appears there are pretty significant irregularities between the zones here,” stated District 4 board member Gary Hostutler. He said the students in the JF zone are not being given a fair shot. “I think we have done a big disservice to these programs,” he said. “Certainly they can’t give the students the attention the other schools are getting. I’d like to see us try and fix this.”
    Hostutler suggested using funds from a projected surplus from this year’s budget or from the more than $2 million in federal stimulus funds the county will receive.
    “I’d like to see us add this position back and advertise it and get somebody in there, the sooner the better,” he said.
    This is the second time this year parents and students have approached the school board about a position eliminated because of budget cuts. Earlier in the year residents of the Staunton River zone asked the board to reinstate an agriculture teaching position that had been eliminated at SRHS.
    District 1 board member Joy Wright said she agreed with Hostutler, but added that the decision to eliminate the position was not made by the board, but rather by the schools involved.
    “We didn’t know these decisions,” she said. “Maybe we do need to know them for the future.”
    Board chairwoman Debbie Hoback asked Central Office staff to be ready with a report on options on the position at an upcoming meeting this month to help resolve the situation.
    “We’ll try to fix it where we can,” she said. “I’m afraid that we probably will see more of this in the upcoming budget and school year. ...  I don’t think there’s any guarantee we can do anything. I think we have to take each situation as it comes and do the best we can.”
    City board member Mickey VanDerwerker questioned whether the board should be involved with selecting what teaching positions are  staffed at the individual schools.
    “I’m not sure we are in the position to look at who is teaching what where,” she said. “I still think that needs to be back at the school level.”
    VanDerwerker said the reality is that because of the new staffing standards, “some programs are going to be hurt.”