COLUMBIA CITY — The parking lot filled up at the Marshall Community Building Monday evening.
The board room for the Whitley County Consolidated School Corporation’s Board of School Trustees was standing room only.
Administrators braced for what was expected to be an outcry against proposed staffing cuts in the corporation due to a revenue shortfall.
Instead, no one spoke up on behalf of teaching positions that may have to be scaled back for financial reasons, but rather took to the podium to request an addition to the school system’s budget.
Corporation Superintendent Dr. Patricia O’Connor proposed budget cuts at last month’s meeting that would result in several reductions in force at several schools in the district.
On Monday, O’Connor and Corporation business manager Tony Zickgraf again spelled out the budget shortfall and what they feel are the appropriate actions to keep the district in the black.
During the public input portion of the meeting, a group of parents took the podium to ask that Columbia City High School Band Director Helen Foster’s position be made full time.
“We are certainly sympathetic to your position in needing to cut funding,” said Matt Rentschler.
“However, from our perspective, the band program has paid its dues.”
Rentschler and others said that when the band director position was made part-time, they were told by corporation officials the numbers didn’t support a full-time director.
The implication was, according to the band program advocates, that if the program grew, the issue could be revisited.
Rentschler cited growing numbers in the program and the addition of several jazz ensembles as evidence of growth.
“The band director has done everything she can to make this program more visible in the county,” he said.
“We have proven that it’s time for the band to be fully funded again.”
O’Connor, while sympathetic to the speakers’ situation, said the decision to fully fund the band director position relies solely on the size of the classroom and not the numbers of students attending extracurricular programs like jazz band.
“When students enroll in class, and there’s enough enrollment there, we support that,” she said.
O’Connor said Foster’s position is actually a two-thirds position instead of a half position. She added that Foster receives a stipend for after-hours activities as well.
Foster could not be reached for comment.
“I absolutely think our band director is fantastic,” said O’Connor, “and I really want a full-time band director and I really want our program to be successful. I’m really supportive of Miss Foster, she’s excellent.”
At the meeting, O’Connor and Zickgraf presented their final budget-reduction recommendations to the board.
Those steps included a reduction of six teaching positions and one office assistant at Indian Springs Middle School, eliminating two special education positions and reducing two guidance counselors at the primary and middle schools.
Also proposed are the elimination of 8.5 teaching assistants.
As part of the plan, the board approved an increase in tuition for preschool and voted to charge for full-time kindergarten for families on free or reduced lunches.
The fee would be $600 per year, or $3.33 per day.
O’Connor also recommended a reallocation of the corporation’s Professional Development funding for 2011 and 2012 as a budget-reduction measure.
The proposed cuts and reductions, according to O’Connor’s report, could save the corporation $383,815 in 2011 and $996,411 in 2012.