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Board hears plea for fourth band position
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MONROE - The continued success of Monroe's band program hinges on the district picking up the tab for a fourth band instructor, ardent band supporters told the school board Monday.

More than 80 students, parents and band alumni packed the school board's meeting room to share their views during Monday's public hearing. They pleaded with the school board to fund the position, saying it is vital to the high-quality program.

The district cut the band program from three to four instructors for the middle and high school in 2006 in reaction to budget problems. Other cuts made included eliminating library directors at individual schools and eliminating the French foreign language program.

But the band position struck a nerve in the community. A group calling itself Community Helping Instrumental Music Education, or CHIME, formed to raise donations to fund the fourth position. The group vowed to raise $140,000 to pay for the fourth instructor's salary and benefits package for three years.

Those three years end this summer and administration officials already have said adding the fourth band instructor back into the budget is not a priority. In March, Superintendent Larry Brown presented the administrative team's recommendation to leave the position out of the 2009-2010 budget, citing other budget priorities. In April, the school board followed through on two of those priorities by voting to keep a K-5 instructional facilitator position and adding a fifth-grade teacher to even out classroom sizes.

Band supporters attended Monday to ask the school board to consider adding the position, Joe Tomasiewicz said, by way of introducing remarks from the public. He and fellow parent Mike Shuda asked the board last month to schedule time for band supporters to address the board.

Band is a flourishing program, Tomasiewicz said, noting 31 percent of graduating seniors this year are in band. Band participation fluctuates yearly, but that represents a high mark for the program. Next year's numbers look nearly as strong, with 29 percent of graduating seniors expected to take band, he said.

The district is in a much different situation than it was back when the cuts were made, he said. "Finances have stabilized," he said. With six bands for students in sixth through 12th grade, the program offers many more leadership opportunities than other activities.

"We can't afford to let our children down," he said.

Others echoed Tomasiewicz's sentiments. About eight other people, including current band students, addressed the board in an organized and courteous manner.

Monroe has "a unique and quality program," said Cindy Blanc, who open enrolls her daughter in the Monroe school district because of the instrumental music program. And a key element is the ability instructors have to offer private lessons to students - an element that would be lost if there's only three instructors.

Another common theme in supporters' comments was the important life skills and lessons that participating in band affords students.

Sue Turek said she has seen these lessons learned by her three sons - lessons open to all band students, not just the elite players.

"No matter how many kids bust their butts practicing on the driveway, only a very few get a chance to play," she said in reference to basketball and other sports. That's not the case in band.

"Don't mess with what you're already doing well," she said.

Student Joe Ganshert reminded board members the marching band already was cut due to the budget. He urged them to consider what other opportunities, such as the jazz band, might be lost as a result of instructors having less time. "Extra opportunities will be lost. The quality will go down," he said.

The district does have some extra money to fund the position in light of two recent retirements in the band program, Shuda said. This spring, longtime band instructors Randy Sievert and Tom Schilt announced their retirements. The district can hire two less experienced band instructors with the money it will save by not having more senior instructors on staff.

He admitted those costs will continue to rise as instructors work their way up the pay scale, but for the next few years at least, the cost of four instructors could be cheaper than what the district currently pays for three.

No one from the public spoke against adding a fourth band position.

School board President Scott Schmidt said at the beginning of the hearing the school board will discuss the matter as a board Monday, May 18, without allowing public comment.

"All we ask is that you think about what's been said tonight," Tomasiewicz said.