The Ripon Area School District (RASD) will hire a full-time employee to fill the position left vacant by the upcoming retirement of Ripon High School (RHS) Band Principal Sandy Polcyn, keeping the number of music teachers unchanged next year.
However, the district will not have federal Elementary-Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds beyond the 2022-23 school year.
This means SADR will be forced to make tough budget decisions in the years to come unless the state or federal government increases funding to local school districts.
In front of a group of concerned residents, the Ripon School Board unanimously approved retaining one full-time employee for the RHS Orchestra, which will leave the district with a total of 3.5 full-time employees in the choir and orchestra departments.
The district will continue to review music enrollment numbers annually, as a reduction in full-time staff “may be warranted in the near future,” according to a memo from HRH Director Randy Hatlan and by Ripon Middle School (RMS) Principal Rick Bunge.
Superintendent Mary Whitrock noted that SADR administration met with music staff and put together the new proposal at the last minute, which was ultimately approved by the school board.
The initial proposal would not have filled the position left vacant by Polcyn’s retirement. On the contrary, he would have combined the positions of Band Director RHS and RMS into a single position for grades 6-12.
SADR has seen enrollment decline across its music department, with student numbers dropping from 430 choir and band students in the 2017-18 school year to a projected 246 for the 2022-23 school year, according to the memo.
“After meeting with the teachers, they would rather hire an additional band teacher and review the numbers next year than do an FTE [full-time employee] reduction this year,” Hatlan and Bunge wrote.
The public weighs
The proposal to have a teacher for the RHS and RMS tape drew criticism from members of the public, including five who spoke at the meeting.
Those who spoke expressed concern that consolidating the RHS and RMS band manager positions into one would hurt the music program and could lead to the collapse of SADR’s band program.
In response to the district citing low music enrollment as one of the reasons for the band’s potential consolidation of positions, retired SADR music teacher Kathleen Schaub noted that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. .
When the district consolidated its choir program in middle and high schools, “it was a disaster,” she said.
“The high school choir program is still suffering from the lasting effects of choir teachers leaving,” Schaub said, noting that she feared the same thing could happen to the music program. “…Our current young music teachers are really very good, but I can certainly imagine that they won’t be here in Ripon too long [if band positions are consolidated] because the work would take too long and they would quickly burn out.
She added that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely had a negative impact on music enrollment as many students don’t want to learn an instrument via Zoom.
Similarly, Ripon College Director of Music Education and Bands Tobin Shucha, who did not speak on behalf of the college, noted that consolidating the positions of RMS and RHS bands would result in the loss of teaching. individual and small group lessons.
He explained that one-on-one instruction and small group lessons are key to helping students develop their skills.
In a traditional classroom, teachers can help one student individually, while other students continue to work, Shucha said.
“Consider that you have maybe 20 different math problems to solve at once, and the only way for these students to solve them is to say them out loud, really loud,” he said. “This is what a group class looks like. It’s almost impossible to work through these individual issues without everyone sitting down and wasting their time.
Outgoing Ripon Rotary Club president Liz Nevitt said she moved to the district when her daughter was in middle school and the group’s program had a positive influence on her daughter.
“By the time my daughter graduated, she had played six different instruments at concerts,” she said, becoming emotional as she spoke. “It wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t enough time for summer school, private lessons, group trips [and] bunch of peps. … The music program creates happiness for our children when they play music. What effect will it have if we remove music from our lives? »
Officials discuss group position, budget impact
School board member Andy Lyke thanked everyone who attended the meeting for showing their support and enthusiasm for the music program.
That passion, he said, needs to be directed to those who can make a difference to district funding — state and federal Ripon officials — to avoid future cuts.
“We’re trying to do more and more with less and less,” Lyke said. “These are programs we don’t want to lose, and we need funding to maintain them because they are so important.”
Hatlan added that the discussion about consolidating band positions that stemmed from Polcyn’s upcoming retirement was common and happened in most departments when an employee retired and the district tried to avoid layoffs.
He noted that the new proposal, which retains 3.5 full-time music staff, gives the district time to increase enrollment in the music program.
Whitrock added that SADR was discussing ways to increase music signups.
“That’s the job for the next year: looking at new course options, and there’s even been discussion about ways to deliver some of those and engage students in some of those.” opportunities,” she said.
School board vice president Nate Zimdars acknowledged that it might take time to increase music enrollment after Polcyn’s retirement, as many students were likely drawn to the program because of her.
“There’s no denying that Sandy was seen as a dynamic bandleader, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were any challenges at the start,” he said.
SADR Chief Commercial Officer Jonah Adams noted that the initial draft budget for 2022-23 was intended to prepare for a loss of revenue from 2023-24 as federal funds will no longer be available.
In the 2022-23 school year, federal funds will provide about $1.26 million in operating revenue and the state’s next two-year budget likely won’t replace the current level of revenue, according to a memo. of the district.
Adams noted that the federal money SADR received allowed the district to improve student support and cover inflationary increases in staff compensation.
“The government can have an impact on what happens with our income and our income limits,” he said. “It’s at the state and federal levels. We used the aid to do what it was intended to do: help students and add supports and interventions to students. »
“…We create our budget to be balanced. We are looking to the future and we believe that in two years it will be quite difficult with the loss of the ESSER funds.
If the district doesn’t see an increase in revenue, Whitrock added that it “probably will have [budget] cut the following year.
In other news
In other news from the Ripon School Board meeting:
The school board voted unanimously to terminate Catalyst Charter School. Lyke described the vote as “bittersweet” because Catalyst has helped many SADR students.