Armed with a slide-show presentation, parents of middle school students -- and some students themselves -- complained to the Parkland School Board Tuesday night about proposed changes to the high school band program for the upcoming school year.
Eight-grader Ryan Muller, who plays trumpet in the concert and jazz bands at the Orefield Middle School, told the board that he did not sign up for band next year because he feared the new program would be too time-consuming in his freshman year, preventing him from taking courses he needs to head to a top-rated college.
Also, he said, he feared the program commitments would interfere with his Friday night and weekend time with Boy Scouting, his church youth group and family.
"I'd appreciate changes to the (proposed) band program," he told the board, to applause from audience members.
Muller, along with others who came to address the board, are concerned about the Parkland School District's proposal for a comprehensive band program for the 2011-2012 school year. The new program would require ninth grade students interested in band to participate in both marching and concert bands. Currently, high school students can opt to only participate in the concert band.
At the same time, the high school marching band will no longer be participating in competitions.
Rod Troutman, assistant to the superintendent for educational programs, said earlier Tuesday that the proposed changes are intended to help students better juggle after-school activities and academics. He said students would often drop out of the competition marching band in high school because the time commitment was too great.
Under the proposed comprehensive band program, band students would have practice during the school day, for 90 minutes every other day, rather than the after-school practices now required. He said he hoped the changes would encourage more students to participate in the high school bands.
However, parent Jim Ondrey, who presented a power-point to the board Tuesday night, said the proposed program was turning band students away from participating in it at the high school level.
He identified problems that many parents see with the changes -- incoming freshmen who want to be in any band must participate in the marching band; and class time that would be devoted to marching band would have an impact on the students' curriculum.
He said 44 percent of the current eight graders involved in band were opting not to participate in high school because of those potential strains on time and studies.
Also, he said, neither parents nor students were given sufficient notice about the proposed changes. He said eight graders headed to the high school next year had less than a week to absorb the proposed changes and make a decision on whether to join the high school band program. Despite three parent meetings, he said parents' and students' concerns were still not being addressed.
One parent whose daughter plays trumpet at Orefield Middle School expressed dismay at the way the process has been handled. She accused school officials of "brain-washing" students into acceptance of the changes. "This is supposed to be a democracy," she said.
Superintendent Louise E. Donohue told the parents in attendance that the district could have done a better job in communicating with them and their children.
She said there also appeared to be a misunderstanding in the amount of school time that would need to be devoted to band; it would be six class periods a week, not nine, as the parents indicated in the power point.
Parent Sue Ondrey said later, however, that parents and children had been told at several meetings, and given handouts, about the nine classes per six-day cycle. She said that had apparently been changed along the way and now was now being presented as a "miscommunication." That change is good, she said in an email.
At the meeting, Donohue said the district would work with students on their scheduling so that they can take the classes they want.
Currently, 52 high school students participate in Parkland's competitive marching band and 160 high school students, including those in the marching band, participate in the concert band, which puts on several performances a year.
Donohue said 68 students had already signed up for next year's new band program.
She said the district was committed to making the program work for students and their families.
Board President Jayne Bartlett also told those in attendance that there seemed to be misconceptions about the proposed program. However, she said, the administration had assured board members that they were addressing potential conflicts between band and honors programs case-by-case.
She expressed the board's support of the administration, acknowledging the "sea change" in the high school band program.
She said the board is concerned most with students' academic profiles.
"We in Parkland are in the business of academics....Music is an elective," she said.
If the district proceeds, it would phase in the changes to the band program, starting only with next year's freshman class. That means that students who will be in grades 10 through 12 next school year would still be able to choose only the concert band.
Earlier in the meeting Tuesday, the school board passed its $140 million preliminary budget, which calls for a 4 percent tax hike. (That percentage is expected to be lower by final passage.)
Bartlett referred to the budget process, which is presenting financial challenges to the board, in addressing those in the audience.
"I am happy that we are actually discussing our band program and how we are going to change our band program," she said, "not that we have to cut it."