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Concerned citizens speak out against proposed cutbacks to TASD music programs

At the May 7 Tyrone School Board meeting, several members of the public once again addressed the board for about an hour concerning the proposed cutbacks to the Tyrone Area School District music department.
Students, parents, alumni, and TAHS choral director and music teacher Catherine Young addressed the board with their concerns.
Robert Gherrity, a senior at TAHS, addressed his concern for the proposed elimination of the part-time position held by Thomas Verzella, who teaches three periods a day, one as the fourth grade recorder (known as a flutophone to most) instructor and two as the fifth and sixth grade instrumental music instructor and band director at the middle school.
Gherrity also explained that there is a group circulating petitions around town in support of the TASD music department. He reported that so far, they have 150 signatures in just three days, with petitions located in just three businesses.
Gherrity also reiterated what he said at the April board meeting by saying, “Students do it because they love it, not because they have to. They give it their all, give it their heart”.
He also reiterated his point that the scheduling system at the high school is inadequate and a number of students are unable to schedule music classes for this reason.
Carolyn Patton of Tyrone also addressed the board with concerns over the music department cutbacks. She mentioned there needs to be a balance between athletics and the arts.
“You can’t do this,” Patton said. “You can’t cut the arts program, you can’t cut the music programs.”
Catherine Young, the TAHS choral director, music teacher, and fine arts department chair addressed the board with a number of concerns. She quoted School Board President Lee Stover from the April board meeting when he discussed the need for higher numbers to keep programs going. Young reported to the board that as of Monday, May 7, the numbers are there.
According to the high school guidance office, there are 32 students signed up for music theory and 27 students signed up for keyboarding. Though delighted the numbers are so high, Young said, “I don’t know how I am going to teach 27 students piano, we don’t have that many keyboards in the music suite.”
These are two of the classes that would be sacrificed so the high school music teachers could cover Thomas Verzella’s elementary and middle school instrumental schedule if his position is eliminated as proposed. The music theory and keyboarding classes were targeted because of the low number of students currently enrolled in them. Young also said that if these cutbacks occur, there will be no jazz band program at the high school due to the fact that she and the high school band director will be attempting to fulfill the elementary and middle school instrumental music duties once carried out by Thomas Verzella, and their schedules will be too full to schedule jazz band.
Young reported that there is already no eighth grade general music class at the middle school, just in sixth and seventh grades.
“The eighth grade class didn’t go away,” Young said. Young also said that cutting back would be unfair to the 600 students involved in the middle and high school music departments.
Barbara Lang, a current music teacher at Grier School, who has had two daughters participate in the music programs in the Tyrone Area School District, said that she was saddened to see that the district’s music programs were moving in the wrong direction. She mentioned that she has seen first hand how important it is to start students in this type of program when they are young and it is important that they keep Thomas Verzella to focus on the younger students. She also said that she didn’t know what these students would do without some of these programs.
“This has been their activity, their team,” Lang said.
Lisa Hartsock of Tyrone started her presentation by holding up a poster that said “Save the music, Save the children, Save the children and you save the world”.
Hartsock, who is a Tyrone High School graduate and teacher in a neighboring school district, stressed the importance of music education, how it helped her, and how it helps other students. Hartsock, who achieved the honor of All State Band while at TAHS and was a lead member of the Blue Band while at Penn State, explained that playing instrumental music helped her come out of her shell. Hartsock, who was class valedictorian, also stressed the fact that students who participate in music programs do better academically. She also explained that eliminating Thomas Verzella’s position would be harmful to the program since it would be difficult for the other teachers to cover his duties.
Along with giving a great deal of credit to former TAHS band director Gerry Roberts and current TAHS choral director Catherine Young, she gave a great deal of credit to David Dunlap, the former and long-time TASD elementary band director and instrumental music teacher for her interest in music. She explained that the district needs someone like that to get the young students started in the music program and Verzella is that person.
“Don’t think the kids get to high school and they just join band,” Hartsock said. “This is something worthwhile to save.”
Bill Hartsock, a 2005 TAHS graduate and the son of school board member Bill Hartsock, asked why the school district was proposing to cut this position again. Hartsock said that he recalled when David Dunlap retired in the spring of 1998, and his position was eliminated. High school band director Kris Laird was in charge of all of the high school programs, such as jazz band, concert band, and competition marching band, and the middle school and elementary programs. He mentioned how Laird “was traveling from building to building to building” each day. He recalled that after a couple of years, the school district decided to create Verzella’s position when they realized it was too difficult for one person to handle all of the instrumental music duties for the school district. Hartsock concluded by asking the board if they were going to eliminate Verzella’s position and bring it back two years later when they realize once again that this is too much responsibility on one person.
Lynn Shaffer of Tyrone addressed the board on a number of benefits that the music program provides and stated that cutting the arts programs will affect all areas of education in the Tyrone Area School District. Shaffer also mentioned there needs to be a balance when it comes to programs in the Tyrone Area School District.
Ruth Pazmino of Tyrone addressed the board and stated several concerns on this issue. She has had three children who have participated or are currently participating in the music programs. Pazmino mentioned that she feels the program helps the students become well rounded people and is valuable to the community. She also stated that if the students didn’t have this program, it would be sad for these students.
Pazmino’s daughter Alexis, a senior at TAHS and one of six TAHS students honored at the board meeting for scoring a 1200 on their SATs (three of which are involved in the music program), addressed the board by explaining all of the music groups that are offered at the middle school and high school. She stated that she was involved in all but one of these groups and that she can’t imagine what it would be like without it.
“Without my years of experience, I would not be who I am today,” Pazmino said.
Following the public input, Superintendent William Miller had a brief presentation on this issue. Milller reiterated what he mentioned at the April board meeting that each year the school district re-evaluates all departments and especially when a resignation occurs (TAHS band director Aaron Patterson is resigning at the end of the current school year).
Miller stated that the school district is looking for equity for all programs. He also stated that several positions are also being eliminated, including two sixth grade teaching positions and a third grade teaching position. There is also the possibility of a high school science position being cut. Miller also referred to the auto mechanics and electronics vocational programs that were eliminated in recent years. He said that these programs were completely eliminated, and the school district does not plan to completely eliminate the music program. Dr. Miller also addressed those in attendance concerning the lower enrollment in each grade level in the school district. He said that with lower enrollment, there aren’t as many students to participate in all programs, not just the art and music programs.