Special meeting: Berryville board hears from Clark on band issue
After discussing the issue at a special called meeting Monday night, the Berryville School Board opted to vote on refilling a third band director position at its next regular meeting.
The Berryville School Board accepted band director Andrew Enis' resignation letter at its meeting May 28, and Interim Superintendent Steve Scoggins told the board that Superintendent Phil Clark had decided not to refill the position.
Clark, who was on medical leave throughout May, was reinstated as superintendent at Monday's meeting. He explained his initial decision to avoid hiring a third band director, saying he is trying to focus on meeting standards to increase the district's overall efficiency.
One band director, Clark said, may see more than 150 students per day in Arkansas. He noted that Berryville's band program had three band directors last year for 224 students. Because of these low numbers, Clark said Enis saw only 40 students each day last year.
"How it is fair to a science teacher who sees 148 students a day? To me, we're talking about a matter of efficiency and how we make decisions. Are we making decisions based on a standard that we can consistently follow that's fair?" Clark said.
He mentioned researching other band programs in the state, recalling one school that has three band directors for more than 450 students. Using comparisons like these, Clark said, two band directors for even 320 students would be adequate.
Clark extended the comparison, saying the larger school had a budget of $18,000 for its band department last year. Berryville, he said, budgeted $48,000 for its band program, with $15,000 going toward additional tutors to help individual students.
"They hire other people to come help them when they're working with the band because they want to be a performance-type band, and that's fine if that's what they want to do. But this is a matter of efficiency," Clark said.
Drew Morris, head director of the band program, said last week that the program needs three band directors to maintain efficiency. With three directors, Morris said, band students are separated into the three musical families -- woodwinds, brass and percussion -- and learn their instruments more effectively.
"Having the position cut means that we are running the risk of not having a percussion expert on staff, which is going to really hurt a third of our program," Morris said.
Clark disagreed Monday, saying that band directors are certified to teach all disciplines. He said Morris is concerned about class time efficiency but could easily work around that.
"He doesn't want to have to sit down a section to work on another section. He wants somebody to be there so that every time a section messes up, somebody can stop them and work specifically with that section," Clark said, adding that many schools have fewer than three directors and function well.
He emphasized that his decision not to refill the position was not an attack on the band program, saying many cuts have been made throughout the district this past year. Clark noted that 2.5 positions at the high school were eliminated, the number of football coaches was reduced from seven to five and one of the agriculture teachers was moved to a different subject.
"I'm not making the decision based on emotion or anything like that. It's just, I don't think it's really going to hurt the band program," Clark said.
He added that the district does have money allocated for the third position but said it would be more efficient to save that money and have only two band directors.
"If we are looking to do the things we are wanting to do as far as efficiency goes so that we can save more money, so that we can provide raises, so that we can save money for building programs ... we have to look at efficiency across the district," Clark said.
While he said he doesn't doubt that two directors could efficiently lead the band, board member David Waller stated that the third director is there to ensure quality. Waller noted that the band has a noteworthy reputation in Arkansas and the surrounding region.
"The program has been a source of pride for Berryville when there wasn't a lot of other things on the field we've been proud of," Waller said.
He defended the third position, saying it's a way for the district to go above and beyond for its students.
"There's certain things we do because of standards, and there's certain things we can do because we choose do them," he said.
If the position is not refilled, Waller added, it will appear to be a second strike against the band program. He recalled the elimination of the block schedule a couple of years ago, which prevented many freshmen from marching because of scheduling conflicts.
"That change has affected the quality of the product, and now we're going one more step in that direction," Waller said.
Clark asked board members if they wanted to vote on the issue, saying he works under their direction and will base his final decision on their vote. Board member LeeAnn Ashford suggested that the board wait to vote until its next meeting, hoping to receive an updated number of students in the band program.
Ashford said she wants to know how many students will be in each section to determine if a third director is necessary.
The board agreed and will vote on the position at its next regular meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18.