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Crowd rails against proposed program cuts in Waynesboro area schools

May 28, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The Waynesboro Area School Board adjourned its meeting Tuesday with elementary music and art education, athletics, and high school band and chorus intact for the coming school year.

Programs still facing cuts include GED, field trips and classroom aides.

A crowd of 115 students and adults spilled out of the board meeting room. It was standing room only in a second floor conference room opened for the overflow and connected via audio feed.

Board member Firmadge Crutchfield speculated that some of the hot ticket items contributed to the size of the crowd. He referred to programs like elementary music and art as items "focused on, and I think, incorrectly," saying the media and certain entities within the district latched onto those programs while the board never had intentions to cut them.

Top district administrators last week presented the school board with 24 budgetary items not mandated by the state. The board had left all items on the table for discussion, including elementary art, elementary music, middle school band and chorus, high school band and chorus, and athletics - which represent half of the 10 most expensive line items and collectively total $1.4 million.

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"Even that it's been brought up or put in the tiniest bit of jeopardy, brought us all out in support," said student Natalia Torres-Gonzalez, adding that she was at the meeting "not because of rumors."

On Tuesday, the board adopted a preliminary budget with a proposed 3.5-mill tax increase for property owners. The board, which is still playing with $48.9 million in expenditures, agreed to further discuss funding for several items.

· classroom aides

· field trips

· travel

· general supplies

· three new teaching positions

· technology

· staff development and workshops

· adult education and GED

Tense moments dominated the start of the board meeting, following a presentation by student representatives Chad Reichard and Sabrina Woodlief, who advocated for athletics and music education.

Reichard pointed to comments recently quoted from Singapore's minister of education saying that his students do well academically, but he cannot test "creativity, curiosity, sense of adventure and ambition."

"I enjoin each (board) member not to think in the black and white terms of dollars and cents, but to ever realize that they have been charged with the task of providing the students of this district with the skills and abilities necessary to become upstanding and competent citizens of the future. After all, the very democratic system that elected each member of this board is predicated on citizens receiving quality education in our public schools," Reichard said.

Board member Leland Lemley told the student representatives to not repeat the "lies and manipulation put out by this administration."

"I don't believe we should be chastising the young members of our board who have sat here at almost every meeting through thick and thin," board member Pat Heefner said.

Lemley questioned whether he should have not said anything after the student comments.

"Yes. Try sitting there and showing some manners," board member Stanley Barkdoll said.

"I will have my say. I was elected just as you were. ... You cannot shut me off," Lemley said.

Several children, parents and grandparents used the public comment period to advocate for music and athletics.

"I was a proud supporter of the arts, and I was very happy they had enough of those supplies for me to get through that," said Dani Mummert, who graduated from the district in 2007.

She said band, field hockey and fine arts kept her away from students with poor lifestyles, enabling her to score better on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments.

Resident Beth Eigenbrode expressed surprise that the cuts were being considered, mentioning the earlier, 4-mill property tax increase's impact of $69 for the average homeowner.

"I think I was blown away that all this boils down to $69 a person," she said.

The final budget must be submitted to the state by the end of June.

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