A year after the county school board found a way to keep a popular band director wielding his baton even though his position was eliminated, Dave Shelton and his backers are disappointed anew over Franklin County High School’s decision to shun him and hire a different director. How this came about is a bit of a mystery because FCHS Principal Sharon Collett, the final authority on staffing decisions, would not discuss her reasons for replacing Shelton with Josh Toppass, currently the director of Bondurant Middle School’s band.
What happens next is up in the air. Shelton told State Journal reporter Katheran Wasson he still loves his students but declined to say whether he might take legal action to get his old job back. We wish the FCHS principal, who retires July 1, would explain her decision and Shelton would further enlighten us on his grievance.
This saga began when the FCHS council, because of inadequate funding, decided to reduce the band director position to part time. Band boosters rose up in arms, distraught that Shelton intended to leave the school if he were denied full-time status. The standoff appeared to reach a happy ending last year when school board members worked out an arrangement allowing the director to stay, not as an employee answering to the FCHS school council but in an “itinerant position” with responsibilities at both the county high school and Elkhorn Middle School.
Even better (you’d think), FCHS found its fiscal condition improved this year, so it once again could afford to employ its own band director. That turned out not to be such a propitious development from Shelton’s perspective, because the directorship had been effectively abolished a year ago and the council had to decide whether to advertise the vacancy as a new opening. Superintendent Harrie Buecker, after being advised by the school board’s attorney that the vacancy could be posted or not, at the school’s discretion, left it up to the council – which advertised the opening and conducted interviews.
Much as he had refused to consider staying on as a part-time band director, Shelton initially said he would not reapply for the job he’d performed the past four years to the satisfaction of band members and their parents. But then he changed his mind, saying he’d give the process the benefit of a doubt, hoping that his record – studded with yearly distinguished ratings for the band in state competition, would speak for itself.
“I applied for this job four years ago, and I performed my duties honorably and built a band program of which we can be proud,” he said in April.
Clearly, Shelton had his suspicions that something funny was going on, that the council and the principal would not give his application a fair shake. Evidently he questioned the intentions of the council, the administrator, or both. The public has not been told why the council and the principal spurned a tested band director and gave his old job to a middle school teacher – a former member of the band whose hiring was announced on the school website.
Whether or not Shelton takes his complaint to court, both he and the FCHS principal should explain where they stand. The director’s supporters gave him a ringing endorsement last year and protested downgrading his job to part time. Now they deserve to know the rest of the story behind his ouster.