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State Cuts Cited In Elimination Of Sixth Grade Band

Becky Crow urged school officials to reinstate the sixth grade beginner band program that was cut this year. School officials cited a $700,000 budget cut in state funding as the culprit for the cut and larger class sizes.

By David Howell

Editor


WATER VALLEY – Deep cuts from state funding were cited by top school officials in the decision to cut sixth grade band from the Water Valley School District this year following a passionate plea from Becky Crow to reinstate the beginner band class.

“This problem needs to be fixed tonight. I realize that might not be in the comfort zone for anyone in this room. But coming to the board meeting was not in my comfort zone,” Crow stressed during the 15-minute exchange about the future of the band program at last Monday night’s school board meeting.

“Tabling it for another meeting, in my professional opinion, will be sounding the death toll for the band program,” the former school band director told trustee. She also shared multiple statistics that showed a strong correlation with classroom success for students participating in band programs. 

Crow’s request to appear at the meeting followed an earlier meeting with Superintendent Dr. Michael McInnis earlier in the month with the same outcome – funds are not available to reinstate the class after the district experienced almost $700,000 in budget cuts from the Mississippi Depart-ment of Education.

That is $700,000 less than the state money allotted to the district just two years earlier following a string of budget cuts, a number that has been cited frequently in recent school board meetings.

The cuts were cited in the reduction of an estimated 15 to 16 teaching positions, School Board President Taylor Trusty explained during Monday night’s meeting.

“That doesn’t mean we fired people, we just didn’t fill positions when people left. It is not something that we wanted to do,” Trusty added. Both he and McInnis added that the cuts means that some classrooms are overflowing and teachers’ workloads have increased.

During the dialogue Crow offered a solution to the problem: shifting one of the four non-band classes taught by Band Director Bo Boutwell to another teacher so that he could teach the sixth grade beginner band class for one hour each day at Davidson Elementary School. 

“Over the years the music staff of three was reduced. It currently consists of one band director. I regret that we can’t even say that we have one full-time band director… or a part-time band director. The truth of the matter is that our current band director teaches two (band) periods a day. The other four periods, he teaches non-band classes,” Crow stressed.

Crow also told trustees that she is in and out of high school bands in schools in north Mississippi on a regular basis and has inquired to see if cuts have been made to other band programs.

“The answer is no,” Crow continued.

“Will adding sixth grade band back into the school session this year cost any money? No, we are already paying the salary of a band director. We already have an elementary band room,” Crow continued.

“Since the school doesn’t provide the band with a budget, reinstating what was cut doesn’t cost money,” she added.

“I sense your frustration,” McInnis countered, added that he had revisited the high school schedule following the earlier meeting with Crow. 

“I just can’t make it work, we are just that short of staff,” McInnis continued. “It’s not that we have anything against sixth grade band. We just don’t have the personnel to do it,” he continued. 

“I think the frustration and venting that is pointed to the school board, perhaps needed to be pointed to the state legislators,” McInnis said.

“We are up to over $700,000 in cuts, we had four positions at the high school we couldn’t fill. We had to move a teacher from the elementary school to 7th grade because of the shortage,” the superintendent explained. 

He also pointed to growing pains at the elementary school.

“Our kindergarten numbers are exploding. Right now we are only four students away from having to add another kindergarten class,” McInnis stressed, noting that would also be problematic for the school’s budget.

“I say direct that to Jackson,” McInnis added about Crow’s plea to school officials. “Give me the $700,000 that belongs to this school district and fully fund MAEP and we can have sixth grade band. And we won’t have classes with kids pouring out,” McInnis added. 

   

“My prime objective, sitting here in this seat, is to make sure our children are educated. That is what we have hired Dr. McInnis to do. That is what he has hired his administrators to do,” Trusty added.  “Their recommendation of cuts to make was 6th grade band. We are going to have to live with the recommendation… because I can’t hold him accountable if he gives me a recommendation and I say no.

Trusty said the tough economic times had affected many other areas in the school.

“These are tough times, the decisions don’t come easy. I can tell you project after project that we want to do,” Trusty said, pointing again to the lack of funds. Both Trusty and board member Pierce Epes also noted the positive impact the band program has had in the lives of their children. 

Epes also noted that even with the budget cuts, the Mississippi Department of Education have increased requirements that require additional time for school personnel. 

“All of us would loved to have band and a lot more classes,” Epes said. 

“I wasn’t aware I was asking for money,” Crow answered, instead recommending finding a creative solution to reduce one of the band director’s non-band classes.

“Then we to find somebody else,” Epes explained, noting that the current schedule for teachers is already at full capacity.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Trusty continued.

“I think you have given me my answer,” Crow responded.

“I can promise you that we will continue to look at it,” Taylor told Crow. “We are trying to juggle and do, and do the best that we can do. And I appreciate your being here. I know you come here with the attitude of trying to work something out. But I don’t think that it will happen this year.” 

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