By KARI BLURTON
A steady six-year decline in state education funding combined with staff cuts at Hays USD 489 have music educators at Hays High School worried about the future of the district’s music program — but they remain hopeful community involvement can turn things around.
USD 489 recently agreed to 16 staff cuts including the elementary music teacher at O’Loughlin (who also taught at Washington) and a full-time choral teacher at Hays Middle School in order to help cut into the $1.3 million deficit the district is facing for the 2014-15 school year.
Members of the school board have stated the cuts might not be permanent as the board works on next year’s budget, but the teachers had to be notified in order to meet a May 16 deadline.
According to HHS band director Craig Manteuffel, if the cuts are permanent, he and HHS choral director Johnny Matlock, HHS orchestra director Joan Crull — who already are teaching music classes at the middle school as well — and Hays Middle School band director Marcus Bishop are prepared to be “shifted around” to teach elementary music classes as well, classes they are not trained to teach.
“Every level of music of education is very important,” Manteuffel said. “The general population may think because we teach middle school and high school, we can just pop into the elementary school classroom and teach music. That is not the truth. If elementary programs are not strong, we are going to be seeing that in the band, orchestra and choirs as (the students) are coming up. ”
Both Manteuffel and Matlock are also worried about finding the time to teach more classes while keeping the district’s music program from slipping from “exceptional” to “average” and “status quo.”
Matlock noted the choral department recently won 17 Jester Awards for High School Musical Theatre Excellence from Music Theatre Wichita — “more than any other in the state” — for this year’s musical production of “All Shook Up.” Twenty-five of his vocal students qualified for the state finals.
The band department also frequently wins state awards and, this year, four students qualified for state competitions competing against “schools in Wichita, Kansas City, the cream of the crop.”
“That just doesn’t happen,” said Matlock, noting the process starts with learning the fundamentals in elementary school and an “exceptional” staff that “goes above and beyond and works many, many hours.”
Matlock said taking on more classes is just not something “we can physically do” and still maintain the excellence the music program is known for statewide.
“I think the (USD 489) board is being forced to make very tough decisions because they have to do that,” he said. “Look at the slow decrease in school funding by the state since 2009. Had (state education funding) not decreased we would be $2 million on the other side of this.”
According to information from USD 489, base state aid per pupil has decreased from around $4,400 per pupil to a little more than $3,800 per pupil.
“I know our administrators support us,” said Mantueffel, who is also vice president of Kansas Music Education Association.
The solution to the problem, they say, will have to be local.
“The community can change things, that is what is going to make a difference in this. … The community is going to have to take ownership in what is going on and we can make a difference,” Matlock said. “They need to let lawmakers know at the state level this is what is happening to our schools. … they need to let them hear that”
“Being negative is not going to change anything,” Monteuffel added. “I know our music parents have been very supportive. If there are other people out there who have ideas on how to get this switched around and get some positions back in, I know the (USD 489) school board is very open to listening to ideas, and I know you can email any board member or even the superintendent. I’m sure they would listen to ideas.
“It’s not just (about) the education of the USD 489 family here. It is the entire community of Hays and surrounding towns … everyone needs to get involved.”