Just a couple hours after hearing pleas from three students and four parents to rehire Riverside-Brookfield High School choir teacher Kayley Smetana to a full-time position District 208 Board of Education on April 26 voted 6-0 to offer Smetana a part-time position paying $23,230. 

The 0.4 full-time-equivalent (FTE) position means Smetana would teach only two classes instead of the normal full-time class load of five. RBHS has three choirs. If she sticks around, Smetana would teach two choir classes while Matthew Loeb, who primarily teaches orchestra classes, would likely teach one choir class. 

This year, her first at RBHS, Smetana’s position was 0.9 FTE. She taught four classes one semester and five the other semester. 

Also on April 26, the school board approved recalling Loeb to a full-time position next paying him $69,000. For the 2021-22 school year, Loeb works both at RBHS and Riverside Elementary School District 96 in a job sharing arrangement. District 96 declined to renew that agreement for next year. 

Loeb came to RBHS two years ago. Since he has more seniority than Smetana, he was offered the full-time position.

During the public comment portion of the April 26 school board meeting, students and parents asked the board to fund three full-time music teaching positions, However, the school administration recommended only 2.4 FTE for music next year based on enrollment in those classes.

“It is driven by the student enrollment number,” said Deanna Zalas, the president of the District 208 Board of Education. 

The board approved the administration’s recommendation. Zalas noted that no music classes are being eliminated.

“We’re not cutting anything,” Zalas said. “There is still three choirs next year. There is still orchestra, there is still band.”

According to school data, 370 students have signed up for music classes next year, up from 343 last year, but down from 564 in 2020-21 and 503 in 2019-20. 

Music supporters argue that the decline in enrollment in music classes is a result of the pandemic, because music did not lend itself to remote learning.

“I am extremely disappointed that this board is so unwilling to invest a little more in the music program to help it build back after the huge hit it took due to COVID,” said Liz Buoscio, the parent of RBHS choir member, who addressed the board on April 26.

Buoscio’s daughter, Olivia, who also addressed the board was also disappointed by the board’s action.

“I am really upset and I hope the choir program can keep progressing despite these challenges,” said Olivia Buoscio.

The fear among choir members and others involved with the music program is that Smetana will find a full-time teaching position elsewhere and leave RBHS.

“My big hope is that the school can increase her workload and that she will stick around,” said James Baum, the RBHS band director and the instructional coach for the Fine Arts Department, in an email. “The truth of the matter is there is no such thing as a part-time high school choir director. To do what she is expected to do, she will have to commit all of her heart and soul into her work and her students, but she still needs to make enough to be able to sustain herself.”

Smetana did not reply to a request for comment.

As a 0.4 FTE employee, Smetana would not be eligible for health insurance through RBHS. That would change if Smetana is bumped up to a 0.6 FTE position. 

Smetana is completing her first year at RBHS after teaching for four years in Riverton, Illinois. She had big shoes to fill after former choir teacher Audrey Prince resigned last year to take a teaching job in Oregon. Although many choir members were heartbroken when Prince left, Smetana won them over.

“At the beginning of this year I was not very open minded about getting a new choir director but Ms. Smetana proved me wrong,” RBHS junior Veronica Hunt told the school board. “She is not only supportive and enthusiastic, but she’s a wonderful educator and it would be a disservice to the community if she were to go after not being offered a salary with benefits that she can live off of.”

In 2021, the Fine Arts Survey class was eliminated as a graduation requirement at RBHS. Music teachers played a large role in teaching that class. The school has not employed three full-time music teachers for a decade.

Zalas said class enrollment numbers drive staffing decisions, noting that while music class enrollment has dropped, numbers in visual and applied arts classes at RBHS have skyrocketed. 

Nearly 1,300 students signed up to take applied arts classes next year compared to just 745 in 2019-20. Applied arts classes include family and consumer science classes, business and technology, engineering the industrial arts, and radio and TV. 

Enrollment in visual arts classes is also increasing rising from 446 in 2019-20 to 619 next year.

“Those are still the arts, we still support that part of the student experience,” Zalas said. “It’s the elimination of the [Fine Arts Survey] requirement that’s opened people up to have other options.”