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West band supporters rally against cutting directors' hours

June 19, 2009

About 20 Wauwatosa West High School band students and their parents gathered last night to again speak out against a district staffing decision that will cut the band director's hours by 30 percent this fall.

Student Alex Steiner spoke alongside his father, arguing that the band program will suffer if director Richard Smith's position is cut to part time. "The quality of our band will likely decrease significantly," he said.

Parent Donna Pfaff has been spearheading a grass-roots effort via e-mail to rally supporters against the decision. Pfaff said parents and students will attend Monday's School Board meeting to assert their opposition to the plan and to show that they "aren't going away." They've also scheduled a meeting with Superintendent Phil Ertl Tuesday.

"The only way we're going to be heard by the administration is if we go to Mr. Ertl himself," Pfaff said.

Because of declining band enrollment, district administrators plan have Smith spend just 70 percent of his time at West. The remainder of his hours would be spent teaching music at Whitman Middle School and Madison Elementary School.

Starting in fall, East will reduce staffing for band from 1.4 full-time equivalents to 1.3 FTE, while West will drop from 1 FTE to 0.7. The district expects 212 band students at East and 105 at West.

Chris Preisler, a spokesman for the district, confirmed that the decision was dictated by a staffing formula which assigns 0.2 FTE for every 25.5 students. This formula indicates both schools will be understaffed, but West will have a higher ratio of staff to students.

The parents and students say the formula shouldn't apply to music classes, arguing the director must do the same work regardless of the number of students. They're demanding the School Board step in to reverse the decision.

Because staffing decisions are normally left to administrative staff, Preisler has said future School Board discussion is not likely.

The subject was publicly broached when parents and students - some dressed in band uniforms - packed the Wauwatosa School Board Room on June 8 to tearfully protest the reduction. Last night, supporters gathered again to reiterate their opposition to the decision.

Student Alex Worth joined others in praising Smith's character and his role as director.

"For me, it's like there's school and there's band, because Mr. Smith brings out the best of every day," Worth said.

Many speakers wondered aloud which 30 percent of band activities will get cut when the director has to pick and choose what he has time for.

Parent John McNaughton joined others in saying the program's quality will suffer as a result of the cut.

"You can't cut 0.3 out and actually cram everything that needs to get taught; that needs to get drilled; that needs to get run," McNaughton said. Later, he added: "We need someone here full-time, so that the full job can get done."

At both meetings, speakers argued that the staffing reduction is only the latest in an ongoing disparity between the resources given West and cross-town rival Wauwatosa East High School.

Officials have said it's nothing personal or unfair - the decisions are simply based on enrollment, and East has more students than West.

Neither Superintendent Phil Ertl nor Preisler immediately returned phone calls seeking comment this morning. Smith declined to comment.

Look for more updates about this story on WauwatosaNOW.com and in the June 25 issue of Wauwatosa NOW.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Wauwatosa School Board Meeting

WHERE: Wauwatosa East High School Board Room, 7500 Milwaukee Ave.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday, June 22

MORE INFO: wauwatosanow.com/news/47531592.html

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