School board votes to keep full-time band positions

After public outcry about a planned reduction of instrumental music staff, the Anoka-Hennepin School Board May 12 restored full-time band directors at Blaine and Coon Rapids high schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

Before the board meeting, instrumental music programs were slated to lose 1.25 full-time equivalent positions at the two high schools: 0.75 at Coon Rapids High School and 0.5 at Blaine High School.

Charlie Morgan, the current full-time band director at CRHS, its sixth band director in eight years, and Joe DeLisi, a part-time band director at BHS, received their pink slips in March. With their anticipated departure at the end of the school year, the plan was to have Michael Watson, CRHS’s orchestra conductor, step in front of two of the school’s three bands, while Bruce Olson, BHS’s full-time band director, split time between the two high schools in order to direct the third ensemble.

Morgan is the only band director at CRHS. Olson works full-time at BHS, while DeLisi and Richard Raaen work part-time. The schools each have full-time orchestra conductors.

After hearing testimony from band students and parents at the April 28 board meeting, the board sought short-term and long-term solutions to declining enrollment and “revolving-door” issues in instrumental music.

The short-term solution members were looking for was a reinvestment in FTEs, particularly at Coon Rapids High School so that the program would not be weakened with further turnover, according to Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann.

It isn’t often that the board intervenes with staffing, much of which is decided at the school level, Heidemann said. But, “if there’s a program at risk and it’s valued by the community, it’s valued by the board, then the status quo and maybe treating it the same as everybody else isn’t the right solution,” he said at the end of the April 28 board meeting.

“I know our school board labored hard on this one because they understand how we determine our FTEs,” BHS Principal John Phelps said. “They certainly want to let our teachers make those decisions because they’re the people that are on the front line.”

Monday, Associate Superintendent for High Schools Jeff McGonigal recommended that 1.0 FTEs be restored to instrumental music programs at the schools next year, and the board approved his recommendation to get the hiring process rolling.

“I would imagine we have a short fuse on this particular item,” Heidemann said. Administrators would like to see staffing lined up for next year as soon as possible.

The new staffing recommendation allows Coon Rapids to maintain its current FTEs, and shorts Blaine 0.25 FTEs, rather than 0.5, in 2014-2015.

CRHS will keep a full-time band director, though that may or may not be Morgan. As a probationary teacher, he will need to reapply for the position.

CRHS Principal Annette Ziegler said that by press time, the application for the position would likely be open, and a hiring decision will be made before summer vacation.

With 0.75 FTEs restored at CRHS, Olson is free to remain full-time at Blaine, though final staffing decisions are still pending, Phelps said.

The funding for the additional FTEs will come from the district’s budget reserve, according to McGonigal.

Also at the latest school board meeting, Heidemann announced the creation of a music task force to be co-chaired by Board Members Jeff Simon and Scott Wenzel. School Board Member Bill Harvey, McGonigal, Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools Jinger Gustafson, Director of Community Education Steve Kerr, secondary school administrators, secondary school music teachers, Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota union leadership, parents, and central administration in the areas of labor relations, employee services and finance will join them on the task force.

Meetings will begin at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. The task force will explore music programs in the district and make recommendations to help them thrive no later than Dec. 31, 2014.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]