Music enrollment has dropped at Riverside-Brookfield High School in the last seven years. That’s the main reason why a music teacher’s hours at RB have been cut next year, top administrators say.
According to a report presented by Principal Kristin Smetana at the April 28 meeting of the District 208 Board of Education, enrollment in music classes has dropped by nearly 12 percent since the 2008-09 school year, falling from 328 students, or 22.1 percent of the school’s enrollment in 2008-09, to 289 students next year, or 18 percent of next year’s projected enrollment.
“As school enrollment continues to increase, the music enrollment has decreased,” Smetana said in her report. “Consequently, music staffing has decreased accordingly.”
Smetana produced her report in response to a request from the school board to provide the public with the data behind their March decision to cut band director James Baum’s hours by 10 percent to a 0.9 full-time equivalent (FTE) position next year.
That cut has prompted an outpouring of criticism from music supporters, especially from students, parents and alumni. That criticism has stung school board members, who feel that those protesting do not understand the facts and reasoning behind the decision.
Band enrollment at RBHS has dropped by 28 percent since the 2008-09 school year, according to the report. In the 2008-09 school year, 172 students were enrolled in a band class. For the 2015-16 only 123 have signed up for a band class. During the current school year, 140 students are enrolled in band classes.
Orchestra enrollment has increased since 2008-09 from 33 students to the 49 students who have signed up for orchestra next year, an increase of nearly 50 percent. Enrollment in choir classes has dropped 20 percent, from 111 students in 2008-09 to 89 students next year.
“We are making decisions … based on student choice,” said Beth Augustine, the director of student services at RBHS, who appeared before the school board April 28.
The full-time equivalent teaching positions devoted to music faculty have varied during the last eight years, rising from 2.6 in 2008-09 to 3.0 in 2010-11 before falling to 2.0 this year and 1.9 next year.
For a few years, RBHS had three full-time music teachers until former band director Kevin McOlgan retired after the 2011-12 school year. In 2012-13, McOlgan taught part time.
During 2010-11, McOlgan and Baum co-taught marching band and honors symphonic band as they began the transition from McOlgan to Baum as band director.
According to the report, from 2007 until 2010 the school paid for 3.0 full-time music teachers, but the number of music classes taught was less than what would be expected from three full-time teachers.
“We had [a] 2.6, 2.7 [full-time equivalent course load], but we were paying full-time salaries for all three people,” said Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
A few factors appear to be contributing to the drop in music enrollment at RBHS. Prior to the 2012-2013 school year, all members of the marching band received a yearlong waiver from having to take physical education.
But in 2012-13, beginning with freshmen, that yearlong PE waiver was reduced to a one-semester waiver. Not being able to get out of taking PE for an entire year appears to have reduced band enrollment by forcing some students to choose between taking band or another class.
The current one-semester long marching band PE waiver is still longer than the waiver given to members of athletic teams. Members of sports teams are only exempt from taking PE for the length of their team’s season.
A new waiver for the Fine Arts Survey class, which is a graduation requirement, has also reduced the need for music department staffing. The Fine Arts Survey waiver, which allows students with substantial work in fine arts fields not to have to take the class, went into effect with the Class of 2017.
Since there are fewer sections of Fine Arts Survey, there’s a reduced need for staffing. This year, Baum taught Fine Arts Survey both semesters. Next year, all the music sections of Fine Arts Survey will be taught by Diane Marelli. Baum’s hours were cut instead of Marelli’s, because of seniority.
Marelli is scheduled to retire at the end of next year, so Baum can expect that he will likely be restored to full time status then. Baum will still receive a $7,740 stipend next year for his role as music director.
The only music class offered this year that won’t be offered next year is AP Music Theory. This year, nine students are taking AP Music Theory. Only three students signed up for the class in 2015-16.
Board members hope that the report will convince people that there have not been dramatic cuts to the arts at RBHS. Augustine noted that enrollment in visual arts classes has been increasing.
“We haven’t devastated the arts and the music program here,” said board member Tim Walsh.