Dear Members of the School Board,
I recently learned that there is discussion to eliminate one of the two music positions for the middle and high school grades. I am writing to ask that you reconsider this discussion.
I taught 5-12 band in Hot Springs from 1993 to 2001. It was my first job and because of that, Hot Springs will always have a special place with me and my family. The job was tough as it involved teaching 5th grade lessons in the elementary during their recess in homogenous groups, 6th grade band, 7-8th grade band, and a 9-12th band, with lessons, especially for the 6-8th grade students to help them advance in skills to be ready for the high school band.
We struggled with budgets during my tenure as well. Marching uniforms were cut from an early budget, as well as the 6-week summer lesson program cut during my last year of teaching there. It was NEVER considered to consolidate the workload of two full time music positions into one during any of the shortfalls we had because the workload could not be accomplished by just one person. In fact, during one of my years, I proposed adding an additional staff member to the band department because the workload was too great and the pursuit of excellence merited the additional position.
Since 2001, I have been the 5-12 band director at Tri-County Public School. We have 1.5 music teachers for HS/MS band, choir, and elementary music with an enrollment of 182 students. I looked up the enrollment and see that Hot Springs now has around 850 students as of 2016-17, which is a decrease of about 100 students from 2001, when I left. We co-op with a neighboring school for athletics, and our bands assemble when tournament season comes around. The school we partner with has about 450 students K-12 and has one person do the 5-12 band and 7-12 choir, as is being discussed in Hot Springs. They have had 5 directors in the past 7 years. These are good teachers that found the job to be overwhelming with HALF of the school population that you have. Many of those that have left have gone on to be very successful teachers across the state of Minnesota. None of these teachers were dual certified because none applied with that certification.
With the teacher shortage across the United States continuing to grow, music teachers no longer need to become dual certified in both band and choir in order to find a good job. That is the case in our area as when our partner school opens up the search, they are happy to get even ONE applicant. You are asking the person who becomes the only music teacher in middle and high school to do an impossible job. It makes sense that while they would try their best, they will not be successful. Many people will choose to seek employment in places that they feel supported and appreciated. This will be a position that will become a revolving door for teachers IF you are fortunate to find applicants. After a few years, social media and word of mouth will spread about the impossibility of the job and there will be no applicants. What service does that do to the students of Hot Springs? Every Student Succeeds Act(ESSA), the replacement for No Child Left Behind, added Music to the list of core subjects. How will you be able to follow the requirements of ESSA when no one will be teaching the students?
I realize that I am only addressing the impacts that drastic cuts will do to the music department and the students it serves. Having to find ways to keep schools running when funds are not what are required is difficult. Our school has met this challenge of declining enrollment with cuts almost every year. Our administration downsized to save many thousands of dollars, consolidated positions as staff members retired and consolidated bus routes to help focus on running as lean as we can. We still offer band, choir, AND art and are recognized as having one of the top music programs in the area, with consistent high scores in solo, ensemble, and large group contests.
I ask you to think outside of the box in order to make things work. Tightening the belt is hard on everyone. At times like this people tend to pull back into their own areas and just hope it isn’t their area that is cut. You must find ways to work together and share the pain while still trying to keep what makes Hot Springs the school it was…..and is! Thank you for your consideration.