Band back in a bind

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It’s no particular surprise that last year’s rescue of the Franklin County High School band director is back for an encore. The deal by which the county school board restored Dave Shelton to full-time status was temporary, enabled for one year with federal stimulus funds. The accommodation emboldened  principals elsewhere in the system to request eight new positions, which the board granted, at an additional cost of $570,000. Time has run out in both cases.
County schools were able to undertake the personnel expansion  with their million-dollar share of the $10 billion EduJobs program intended to avert teacher layoffs nationwide. The grants have expired, circumstances have changed and the school board and councils have to make other arrangements.
For Shelton and the band boosters who rose to his defense last spring when the FCHS school council decided to reduce his position to part time, the news is mixed. Rising enrollment means the school is allotted 3.5 more positions than a year ago so it once again has the money to pay a full-time band director.  But Principal Sharon Collett told council members that, because they are in effect re-creating a position that ceased to exist in the 2011-2012 school year, they have to advertise the vacancy and accept applications – including one from Shelton if he wants the job.
The director said he’d resign rather than take a part-time assignment when things blew up last March. Some of his loyal students said they, too, would consider transferring to other schools. It all settled down when the school board agreed to make the full-time band directorship an “itinerant” position, for one year, meaning he held responsibilities to the district as a whole, rather than just one school.
Shelton again finds himself at a crossroads. He told The State Journal’s Katheran Wasson he wants to come back to FCHS but won’t reapply for a job  he won four years ago. Parents of band members are disheartened at the renewed prospect of losing his leadership.
Their frustration – like Shelton’s – is understandable. No one who performs a job competently and honorably over a period of years should be forced back to square one just to stay put. Nor should any employer who values  loyalty and professionalism participate in such a charade. If the FCHS principal and council members have anything like the respect for Shelton that his band members and boosters have shown, they should do everything in their power to cut through the red tape and keep the director they already have doing what he does best. Superintendent Harrie Buecker said the school board attorney was examining  alternatives.
Meanwhile, other county schools that hired new people with federal money in the wake of the band director’s reassignment may have to make staff cutbacks unless they, like FCHS, get extra positions because of enrollment increases. They may recall that despite the uproar over the band director’s proposed downgrading, a concurrent proposal to drop a science teaching position from full to part time drew relatively little public criticism last year.
Band, the musical embodiment of school spirit, occupies a special spot in the hearts of supporters. Other teachers, being less visible to the public, may have to fend for themselves.
This experience should impress upon everyone the risk of using temporary funds for recurrent expenses. It’s nice while it lasts, but when the money stops, the music can die.

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