There has been a lot of angst and outrage recently among the students, faculty and adult supporters of the Riverside-Brookfield High School music department because rumors have spread of the school board and administration will be making significant cuts in the school’s music offerings. Some believed that a band or orchestra would be eliminated.
For now, at least, the only cut is that the school’s band director and music teacher, James Baum, will see his position reduced by 10 percent to 0.9 full-time equivalent (FTE).
That means that Baum will only be paid 90 percent of a full-time teacher’s salary. Baum will teach one fewer class during one semester next year. He will continue to receive a $7,740 stipend as band director in addition to his salary.
The only change is music classes next year will be that Advanced Placement Music Theory, a yearlong class, will not be offered. It will be replaced by a one-semester Music Creativity class. Just nine students are part of the AP Music Theory class this year; it was allowed as a special exception to RBHS’ class-size policy.
“Music sections were decreased by one semester class for next year,” said RB principal Kristin Smetana in an email. “This reduction occurred due to low enrollment during registration. … “We will continue to watch student enrollment and course selections of transfer students to see if there is a need to add an additional .1 FTE to the master schedule.”
Smetana said 285 students have registered for music classes next year compared to 309 students this year. Staffing decisions are guided by class-size guidelines that call for music classes to be staffed at either a 40 or 30 students-to-1 teacher ratio, depending on the class.
Before former Band Director Kevin McOlgan retired in 2012, the RBHS music department consisted of three full-time music teachers. Next year the school will have 1.9 FTE music faculty positions.
Baum, an RBHS alumnus who began teaching in 2007, said cutting his position by 10 percent is significant.
“People talk about teachers in terms of ‘FTE’ because they don’t like to think about the humans behind that number,” Baum said in an email. “I have nearly 20 years of experience with the RB music department. I’m very passionate about maintaining and improving the quality of music education here, so that our current and future students can have a similar experience to the one I had. So despite their efforts to talk about this in FTE, this decision is felt on a deeply personal level.”
Baum said he is concerned about the future of the school’s music program, which has reached a high level of excellence under McOlgan, Diane Marelli and Baum.
Baum said he has concerns about the projected 49-to-1 student to teacher ratio in Orchestra next year, adding he won’t adequately be able to address needs of students who play string instruments.
“It takes years to grow a tree, but only seconds to cut it down,” Baum said. “Once we lose FTE, and the real humans behind that number, they are gone. It takes years to rebuild any sort of quality.
“Just look at what happened here in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It took the entire span of Kevin McOlgan’s 20-year career here at RB to build the department back from that devastating period.”
Marelli, who is scheduled to retire at end of the 2015-16 school year, is also alarmed by the reduction to Baum’s position. She noted that at one time RBHS not only had three full-time music teachers, it also had an accompanist to play the piano for the choir. Now, during choir classes, Marelli must both play the piano and lead the choir.
“How much can be chipped away without chipping away at our excellence?” Marelli asked. “Whether we have 300 kids in our department or we have 250 kids in our department it takes the same amount of preparation, it takes the same amount of attention and energy, it takes the same amount of our prep periods and our before school and our after school, and our concerts and our parades and our games and our festivals and our contests and everything else we do stays the same.”
Some parents are concerned and feel that the school’s administration and board don’t care about music or the arts.
“They shouldn’t be cutting his hours,” said Jennifer Perry, of Brookfield, the parent of a member of the RBHS band. “They field 28 sports. How come there are never any cuts in sports? They decimated the theater department and now it looks like they’ve got their sights on decimating music as well, because I think this is the first step.”