SINCLAIRVILLE - Veteran Cassadaga Valley teachers fought against the elimination of a full-time music teacher position Monday night.
John Cross, who has taught music at Cassadaga Valley Central School for 32 years, and his colleague Joseph Braeger, who has taught music for 31 years at Cassadaga Valley Central school, held a meeting in the music room before Monday's school board meeting. More than 75 people, a mixture of students and adults, attended and were asked to wear a music symbol, a bass clef, a treble clef or a quarter note. Cross did the talking.
He started by saying, "Our school board are all outstanding people." He said they needed an intervention so they could understand the seriousness of the cut.
He read from letters and cited articles about the benefits of music.
Cross explained that he felt compelled to speak out publicly against the cut of a music teacher from the budget.
He said, "I've done everything I can over the last four weeks (to convince the board not to cut music). ... I don't want to go in there and blindside anyone. It needs to be said. I've been around here longer than anyone. I am not a public speaker, a political organizer or a rabble rouser."
His goal was to convince the district to replace Mr. Klose, the full-time music teacher who is retiring.
Cross said that during his presentation to the board, people would learn about things he had never expressed.
One of Cross' themes was "because it was the right thing to do," and he told those at the meeting in the music room they were welcome to join with him to say those words at the appropriate times.
When the group moved to the school board room, Cross read from a prepared statement.
Some of the "right things to do" over the years at Cassadaga were staying at the district even though he was offered more money, starting a jazz ensemble, spending hours after school working with students, starting a color guard and violating the teaching contract by teaching more sections than required, he said.
Other "right things to do" involved Cross reaching into his own pockets to come up with the money for music, he said. When there wasn't room in the budget to copy enough sheet music, he bought a copier and copied the music for the students. He bought 60 instruments for the music program. He paid for students to compete at NYSSMA. He made sure that students who couldn't afford the band trips were able to go. He said he did all these things "because it was the right thing to do."
Cross expressed his belief that music was important for the students and said, "We're here for the students we will never meet." He urged the board to make sure the district's music program had a strong foundation in the elementary school. Those in the audience applauded Cross at the conclusion of his presentation.
Others spoke about the music program. Licensed psychologist Sean Seibert explained a music program can help students who are alienated and depressed and have no sense of pride. Part of the power of music is the music itself, he said, adding being part of an excellent musical group can be a "very powerful protective factor."
A member of the public who was a veteran said, "Life starts with a lullaby and ends with taps."
George Clever, a retired mathematics professor, said he doesn't do math anymore; what he has kept is music.
"Music is for the adults (the students) become," he said.
Parent Fred Bretl said he would be willing to pay more to keep the music in the district.
Student Dylyn Stockhausen, who plays flute, said the band room is the safest place in the school.
"So many kids feel welcome there," she said.
She said music is what has kept her at the school in spite of the bullying. She said Cross doesn't allow it.
At the end of the comments, Superintendent Scott Smith thanked the public for advocating for the music program. However, he said that the Board of Education had given careful consideration to the cuts. He pointed to the declining enrollment. He said elementary students will have a period of music a week instead of two, but the period will be 40 minutes instead of the 30 which does not equate to a 50 percent cut as the informational letter to the parents stated.
Smith then stated his version of "the right thing to do."
"We have to row together," he said. "We need the help of everyone."