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April 10, 2019 - 4:46pm

No cuts in music planned in Le Roy school budget; reading and business instruction gets boost

posted by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy, Le Roy Central School District, news, notify.

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The sound of music will still be heard in Le Roy in the coming school year despite concerns that rippled through choral classes that the Central School District Board of Trustees wanted to scale back the program.

In fact, school officials hit all the right notes in a boardroom packed with music students and parents who came to Tuesday's meeting in response to rumors that a chorus teaching position would be eliminated in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

Board President Jackie Whiting told the group that just as there are six teachers in the music department now, there will be six music teachers at the elementary and middle school/high school next year.

Rather than cutting position, the district is adding the equivalent of two and a half teachers, if the budget is approved by voters, in 2019/20, including a special education teacher specializing in reading for first- and second-graders, and a teacher for business education classes (such as computer science, career and finance, advertising and marketing, and accounting).

Superintendent Merritt Holly indicated that the concerns about the music department seemed to stem from a thorough and exhausting budget process that had the budget and finance committee asking a lot of hard questions about what should stay and what should go and what should be added in the coming school year.

"In our conversations we looked at every area inside this budget to provide a program that is, number one, fiscally responsible, and number two, moves up the level of our students up so they can compete, not only in our region, not just in Western New York and Upstate, but across the country and, in fact, as part of the global economy," Holly said.

Like many school boards, Le Roy's allows a forum for public comment early in its agenda and then the public is not given a chance to speak during board discussions of actual agenda items. So before budget came up for board discussion and the members in attendance actually knew no teachers were being eliminated from the music department, four people stood before the board and made their case for retaining a full complement of music teachers.

Speakers include Rita Pencilla, representing the Music Boosters, Megan Privatera, a senior, Aubry Puccio, an elementary school student, and Matthew Austin, a parent.

They all made points about the importance of music to education, the role music plays in shaping students and improving their grades and test scores, and the importance of Le Roy's music programs to the community.

"We have a large number of students who go on to study music or participate in music after graduation," Pencilla said. "This pattern shows that we are cultivating talent and these students need solid foundations in music before graduating."

She added later, "Many studies support the importance of music education and how it improves language and reasoning skills, and the spatial intelligence needed to solve advanced mathematics problems. Students involved in music education are more successful on standardized tests and get better grades."

Austin admitted he's tone deaf and owns the largest collection of guitars of anybody who can't play guitar, but said he's amazed by the progress he sees over the years of students advancing through the district's music programs.

"I’ve really come to appreciate the teachers because they’re here all the time," Austin said. "They give and they give and they give. They’re not just creating singers or dancers or players. They’re creating future citizens that are going to rock the world."

Before telling those in attendance that the budget did not include music department staff cuts, Whiting explained a bit about the budget process.

"None of the decision making is random," she said. "It’s not rash, and it definately involves our staff. They are the key to what happens here, too. In discussions with staff, scenarios may be thrown out, what if we did this, what if we changed that, what if we thought about this. What would it look like if we had one less staff? And that was a discussion that brought all of you people here today. But it was part of a discussion where there is a lot of options."

The proposed budget is $25,909,998, which is $710,770 more than the current fiscal year.

The state's cap on property tax levies would allow the district to increase its local levy 3.45 percent, said Business Manager Brian Foeller. The district is proposing a tax levy increase of 2.89 percent.

The actual proposed budget has not yet been made available to the public yet but there is a vote scheduled for May 2.

Among the highlights outlined by Holly and staff at Tuesday's meeting is the addition of a reading specialist for first- and second-graders.

"If we don’t have students ready to go at grade level by third grade, then we're fighting an uphill battle in math," Holly said.

He gave credit to Wolcott Principal Carol Messura for advocating for the position, even while he pushed back and challenged her on the need.

"Early intervention is the key and we just do not have enough staff to support that early intervention need down in the primary house," Messura said. "With the addition of a reading teacher, my focus will be my first and second grade. It will make a difference."

High School Principal Tim McArdle made the case for increasing the business instructor core from the equivalent of one and a half teachers to three.

"We've been very methodical with business and allowed the data to speak for itself," McArdle said. "We've looked at the number of students who are interested and who are going to college in this field. We're up now to 140 students for the third straight year, up from below 100, the upper 90s, in previous years."

One piece of consistent feedback alumni give is that they wish there had been more computer science instruction available when they were in school and that every student should take the career/finance course.

McArdle said he hopes to see 90 percent of the graduates with that course on their transcripts.

Holly said he felt now is the right time to expand what the school offers to juniors and seniors in business instruction.

"We’re ready right now to make that next step for our students in offering an elective set at the junior and senior level that I would put up against anybody in our region pound for pound with our student enrollment," Holly said.

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Matthew Austin speaking.

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Jackie Whiting at the head of the table.

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Merritt Holly, superintendent.

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At the start of the meeting, Josh Englerth was recognized for his Section V title in wrestling.

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