Music supporters go to bat for band in Greencastle-Antrim School District

In a room adorned with trophies and banners proclaiming the accomplishments of high school band competitions, people concerned about the school district future on music programs gathered May 27. Superintendent Greg Hoover shared school board plans to keep budget expenses in check.

Over 130 people, from babies to senior citizens, packed the high school band room Tuesday evening to learn the fate of the Greencastle-Antrim School District music program. In light of a 2014-15 budget deficit, rumors had circulated that the school board was considering eliminating fifth-grade band, cutting the high school instrumental teacher, and hiring a part-time person to direct the field bands. The Band Boosters asked for a meeting to find out the details.

Superintendent Greg Hoover addressed the crowd. The people came expecting the worst, and left the hour-long session with at least a temporary sense of relief.

Hoover reiterated the financial picture of the district, as had been presented at school board meetings all spring. While the initial budget for next year was $1.5 million in the hole, the board had made cuts, raised various fees and approved a preliminary tax increase of 2.66 mills, to still leave a $500,000 deficit. That would be covered by fund reserves. However, Hoover warned that the $4 million fund was a cushion and would be depleted in a short time if it was drawn upon each year like it also was for the 2013-14 term.

Student enrollment at G-ASD increased even during the recession, revenue from exit 3 businesses “was supposed to be our savior but it didn't happen,” and Greencastle was suffering from the Hold Harmless law, in which state revenue did not increase for growing school districts, he explained.

While changing that law could take years, Hoover was optimistic in the interest new state senator John Eichelberger had taken on the issue. The two would be meeting in Harrisburg in June with other senators and the secretary of education. He urged the residents to express their opinion to area legislators, as a letter campaign could be helpful.

“I'll be honest,” Hoover continued. “I met with Senator Rich Alloway and Representative Todd Rock in the past. They never really did anything like Eichelberger is. They agreed with me, but they didn't do anything.”

If fairness in funding didn't materialize sooner rather than later, Hoover predicted the group could be back in a similar meeting in the future.

“I wanted to talk to you tonight,” he said to the polite audience. “We're eventually going to have to cut everything except what the state requires us to do. It will be a disaster. I don't want to do that.”

The possible plan

Because the district was focused on literacy and numeracy, Hoover said education still had to teach students reading, writing and 'arithmetic'. Class sizes in the elementary school were approaching 31 or more, but the ideal size was 25. In order to achieve that, four more teachers were needed, but there was no money to pay for them.

As a result, the board was likely to eliminate computer classes in the primary and elementary schools, and cut the specials of art, music, library and wellness to half the frequency. The position of the retiring librarian would not be filled, but aides would be in the library to assist teachers bringing in their students. An English teacher vacancy in the high school would not be filled, and that position would be transferred to the elementary level.

The administration had talked to the current music teachers, and none of them wanted to take the high school band director spot left after the death of Samuel Forney last fall. It has been filled by a long term substitute. No changes were planned for the fifth-grade, middle and high school bands, so the high school position would be advertised. The after school band program would be left intact.

Resident Cindy Leckron asked that everyone keep pushing music in the schools. She told them to also petition her son-in-law, Rep. Rob Kauffman, to support changes to Hold Harmless. He served the 89th District and was based in Chambersburg. Seventh-grader Michaela Rader broke into tears as she described the value of band in the middle school. The students became fast friends, even family, and everyone was accepted. “It is worth it to keep it.”

John Rose, with grandchildren in the district, wasn't convinced the public could really do anything to help the situation. Parent Beth Kaetzel was relieved with the outcome, but not totally pleased.

"I'm glad they are not cutting fifth grade band,” she said, “but the other elementary cuts are not beneficial at all.”

Wanda Koons said the community could assist financially if needed. Hoover felt they and the Band Boosters already gave enough, but there would be opportunities to donate to the Greencastle-Antrim Education Foundation if people so desired.

The school board will next meet at 6 p.m. June 5 in the middle school library.