Carlynton reducing number of teachers in elementary school music dept.
The challenges of trying to balance the 2019-20 school district budget has hit a sour note with Carlynton residents, teachers, students and alumni.
Despite a number of pleas from current teachers, students, parents and former students to maintain the current elementary music program, Carlynton School Board members made the difficult decision to reduce the number of elementary music/chorus positions from three to two at the April 16 meeting.
“Cutting educational programs is not the best way to help pay the heating bill,” said Mark Priore, who teaches general music, chorus and band at Crafton Elementary School. “Let’s give positive re-enforcement to these positive children who want to do positive things.”
Russ Pedersen, who is the fine arts coordinator and teaches at both Crafton and Carnegie elementary schools, said the reassignment is not good for the students. Pedersen said he has helped students who cannot afford their instrument rentals and has bought more than $4,000 worth of instruments so that students can learn music.
“This is because we care for the kids and not about the bottom line.”
Several parents spoke about how band and chorus has given their shy children an outlet to express themselves and make friends.
Paul Matz, a 2009 graduate who is performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony this concert season, provided statistical information to the board such as the fact that students who studied music scored above the SAT average.
Mary Ferro, who teaches music and chorus at both elementary schools, said the position is not a job, but a passion. Ferro would be the teacher to get reassigned.
Board President Jim Schriver said the school board cannot place someone in another position. The move is commonly known as checker boarding, where teachers with seniority can select an open position that they are qualified to fill.
Act 55 passed by the state General Assembly in November 2017 changed the furlough rules and how seniority is applied in furlough situations. The law cannot override current contracts, which includes Carlynton’s teacher contract that was extended before Act 55 became law.
“Act 55 does not apply because a retirement has created a vacancy that is not being filled,” Solicitor William Andrews said. “Act 55 only covers furloughs for economic reasons. There are no furloughs, just reassignments.”
The move is part of the district’s restructuring plan to help reduce a budget deficit of nearly $1 million.
Director of fiscal affairs and budget Christopher Juzwick offered an overview of the 2019-20 budget before the public could make comments to the board. Juzwick said the board set a preliminary budget in February that had a $1.4 million deficit. School officials have been able to whittle the deficit down to $987,000 in the past two months. With the restructuring plan approved, the deficit will be reduced to $710,000.
The final budget must be approved by the end of June. Any deficit could be covered by the fund balance, which had just $2.6 million at the end of the 2017-18 year.
Board members cited expenses that the district cannot control, such as salaries, benefits and the state’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System. The retirement fund is based on school district salaries and benefits.
Eight years ago, district contributions were less than 5 percent. For the upcoming year, district contributions will be 34 percent. For Carlynton, the district contribution will be nearly $4 million.
The vote to restructure the elementary music department was 8-1 with George Honchar voting against.
The board was unanimous in other staff changes. The board approved the elimination of the substitute caller/activities/athletic secretary position, as well as the elimination of three paraprofessional positions due to restructuring of classes.
The high school secretary position was reclassified from a 12-month position to 10-month.
Schriver said he has a huge passion for music and has children who enjoy the music programs at Carlynton.
“The fact that we are considering this means that things are very serious,” Schriver said.
Acting Superintendent Joseph Dimperio said the restructuring of the elementary music department is in line with the number of music teachers in other districts. He said the administration will work with the music department in the upcoming months to make sure the program continues to benefit students.