Despite cuts, Mahar School Committee and principal say music program remains healthy

  • Stephanie Parker, a parent of children in the district and conductor of the Orange Community Band, speaks to the Ralph C. Mahar School District School Committee during its July 7 meeting. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Picketers attend the Ralph C. Mahar and Orange Elementary school committee meetings in July to protest recent cuts in the music programs at the schools. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2021 6:07:15 PM

ORANGE — The Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District School Committee continued to discuss its music program on Monday, a topic powered by community passion and fond memories.

Recently the elementary school music teacher’s position was eliminated and a music teacher at Mahar was let go due to extensive budget cuts. Since then, music lovers have rallied to fight for the program and prevent any further cuts, though administrators and School Committee members assure community members that the music program is still alive and well.

Thomas Randall, the middle school and high school chorus teacher, told the School Committee during Monday’s remote meeting that the elementary school program develops the future talent of the middle and high school programs.

“No healthy band system ever survives … without a healthy elementary feeder. So it’s not just two positions at the high school, it’s the investment in the earlier grades to bring those kids to seventh grade with some instrument skills,” Randall said. “I would love to see two full-time positions at the high school, but it is meaningless without a commitment to the elementary school feeder program.”

Mahar Principal Scott Hemlin said he wished to echo Randall’s comments but said the current academic schedule is complete, and 29 students requested band. To take on another band teacher would require finding students to fill out a class.

“Right now we don’t have a need for another person,” he said, adding that it would not be financially wise right now and that the idea can be revisited once the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved.

Hemlin also said the same number of courses are offered as before the two positions were cut.

Stephanie Parker, a parent of children in the district and the conductor of the Orange Community Band, started a Facebook page called “Save the Sounds of the Senators” to advocate for the program. Protesters attended the July 7 meeting of the Mahar and Orange Elementary school committees to discuss the music program cuts and have their voices heard, even though the program wasn’t on the evening’s agenda.

At Monday’s meeting, Parker acknowledged there is still a music program but that people in the community are interested in having better music programs.

“Sometimes we just need to make sure that we keep the momentum going,” she said.

School Committee member Patricia Smith chimed in to say she is a staunch supporter of the program, as her children are alumni and had wonderful experiences.

“I just want to remind everybody that the music program at Mahar is not dead. I think there’s an internet rumor that’s kind of been fomented,” when the position was cut due to budget concerns and the town asked the school to reduce its assessment by $260,000, Smith said. “And, in fact, the position that was eliminated to meet that request was an unfilled position in the music department. No one was fired. There was no one in that position at the time.”

Committee Chair Peter Cross had previously stated $175,000 in cuts came from excess and deficiency funds, while the remaining $86,000 came from music and athletic program cuts. He estimated about $50,000, and someone’s job, was saved when it was decided to not rehire a second music teacher.

Smith noted eight or nine educators were laid off the previous year.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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