AIB music program cut by board
In what seemed like more of a trial than a hearing, the Tyler County Board of Education voted unanimously March 16 to cut the full-time music teacher positions at Arthur I. Boreman Elementary and Sistersville Elementary schools, leaving AIB Music Teacher Matthew Jennings out of a job.
The Board’s office at Tyler Consolidated High/Middle School was overflowing with parents, students, and fellow teachers who came out to show support for Jennings. Jennings is a 2006 graduate of West Virginia University and worked as a teacher’s aide in Tyler County until becoming the music teacher at AIB in 2007. Jennings has the least amount of seniority with one year.
The elimination of the music teacher position at SES won’t affect current teacher Fran Fluharty, who is retiring this year. In voting to eliminate the music positions at the elementary schools, the board also voted to create an itinerant music teacher position, who would teach music at both schools. Jennings’ name was placed on the preferred recall list and he could be rehired as the itinerant music teacher.
Jennings requested an open session due process.
Owens Brown with the West Virginia Education Association represented Jennings, while Personnel Director Duane Dober represented the county. Superintendent Jeff Hoover conducted the hearing with the Board of Education serving as both judge and jury. Witnesses for Jennings included Tyler Consolidated High School Band Director Wayne Smith and parents Becky Barth, Nancy Kestor, and Brandy Glover-Frye.
Dober, in his opening statement, laid out a bleak future for Tyler County Schools.
“The Tyler County Board of Education is facing the worst economic year, hands down, since 1999; the year in which the Board of Education shortened extra-curricular contracts and reduced local benefits for employees in addition to reductions in force,” explained Dober.
According to data cited by Dober, the West Virginia Department of Education Office of School Finance has determined that the Tyler County Board of Education will experience a loss of $541,000 in salary funding for the next school year due to falling enrollment. That loss is coupled with an advertised loss of rural and low-income federal funds and a projected four percent to nine percent loss in Title I federal funds. In all, approximately $650,000 of salary funding will be gone.
Brown encouraged the board to look beyond the bottom line.
“We do understand the issue about funding, but it appears that the bottom line is a number,” defended Brown. “When you’re dealing with children and the aspirations of children, you cannot really put a bottom line on them.”
Jennings addressed the board, citing his work in teaching children three-part harmony and the two choirs that he directs at AIB. “I am able to make great strides with the children over time because of the consistency we have,” said Jennings. “The elementary students in Tyler County are indeed more musically competent and more well-rounded individuals than many other children their age because of their immersion in music they receive from having full-time teachers.”
Cutting music education to part-time in the elementary schools will only make it harder for the students to learn, said Jennings.
“Music has been a priority in this county,” stated Jennings. “The reductions of these positions to (part-time) will create considerable time constraints and greatly strain the ability of students to retain information.”
Becky Barth, who teaches at AIB, spoke in defense of Jennings, stating that the school’s music program far exceeds anything that was offered when she was a student in the Tyler County school system.
“We seem to be moving backwards with our fine arts instead of moving forward into the 21st century with them,” remarked Barth. “I too understand that we’re in the middle of an economic downturn, but by making the music teacher position part-time at both elementary schools it effects students at both schools.”
Parent Nancy Kestor was shocked and appalled that the board would consider cutting AIB’s music program. Kestor’s six-year-old son is a choir student at AIB.
“Keeping music in our schools is not only important to me, it’s something near and dear to my heart,” said Kestor. “We make a sacrifice for our children’s education and we expect you to do the same and find a way to make this work for the kids to keep their music program as is.”
As the last witness for Jennings, high school Band Director Wayne Smith read a letter on behalf of the county’s music teacher in support of maintaining full-time music instruction at the elementary schools.
“If music programs are cut, students in Tyler County will be cheated of positive experiences that will change their lives,” said Smith.
The board voted 5-0 to eliminate the full-time elementary music positions.