Music debate brews at coffee chat

February 28, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Coffee and ConversationMusic debate brews at coffee chat

As it has dominated recent Washington County Board of Education meetings, the effort to reinstitute an instrumental music program in the county's elementary schools dominated conversation at the school board's Coffee and Conversation event on Saturday morning.

The quarterly gatherings, started about three years ago, give community members a chance to chat informally with school board members and the schools superintendent.

More than a dozen people showed up at the Career Studies Center cafeteria, where all five board members and Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. offered them coffee, doughnuts and their ears.


Several members of the Washington County Alliance for Elementary Instrumental Music and group supporters took advantage of the casual forum. Most migrated from table to table to share their views personally with each school board member.

The group, formed last year, is pushing for the program to be brought back in the 1998-99 school year.

About 150 people attended a public hearing Thursday on the school superintendent's proposed budget in show of support for the music program, which was eliminated two years ago.

During their visit to her table, group members Tina Younker, Amanda Feeser and Clifton Barnhart didn't have to convince school board Vice President B. Marie Byers that it's a good idea to bring back elementary instrumental music.

Byers, who said she feels her three grown children benefited from the program, shared fellow board members' concerns about the true cost of reinstituting the program and asked for details on the group's idea to cut equipment costs.

County middle schools have available chairs and music stands that can be used, Feeser said.

Students' instruments either would be provided by parents who could afford them or loaned by the Alliance, acting as a countywide booster organization for the elementary-level program, Younker said.

Younker said she liked Byers' idea to ask community members to donate old instruments that either they or their children don't play anymore.

"I have two. One's a trumpet. One's a viola," said Byers, who said the school system has been successful with a similar approach in soliciting computer equipment donations from the community.

Byers was one of the three school board members who at a work session last week spoke in favor of including money for elementary instrumental music in the board's budget for next year.

"The sooner the better. It shouldn't have been taken out in the first place," school board President Robert L. Kline said Saturday.

The school board has not yet approved a budget to present for public hearing.

The $108 million budget Bartlett presented to the board in January did not include the instumental music program.

Bartlett said he intentionally left it out to allow time for both the school and parent communities to come to a consensus on how the program should be set up.

While there's been a vocal movement to reinstitute the program as soon as possible, Bartlett said, a lot of people have asked school officials to take more time for planning.

Some teachers and community members fear that the program will take away from needed academics, he said.

Board members Doris J. Nipps and Edwin Hayes said Saturday that they're not against reinstituting the program, but they think it's unwise to rush it into next year's budget.

The board needs to have a true picture of what the program will cost before putting it into the budget so that it doesn't get stuck paying the gap if the Washington County Commissioners base funding on a too-low figure, Hayes said.

There's a big difference between the Alliance's $225,000 estimate and Kline's estimate that it could cost up to $350,000, he said.

For the sake of instrumental music program in middle and high schools, the county can't afford to wait, board member Andrew R. Humphreys said Saturday.

Not all of the people who attended the Coffee and Conversation came to talk about the hot topic, Bartlett and school board members said.

Other topics included plans for state and federal assessment tests, problems with the four-period scheduling system at North Hagerstown High School, student-teacher ratios and what's being done about curriculum audit findings, they said.

Smithsburg parent Effie Tiche came to share her concerns that more teachers are needed to reduce class sizes and that the school system's Project Challenge program for gifted students stops after elementary school.

"Those kids are really left with nothing," Tiche said.

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