Indiana, PA - Indiana County

INDIANA: School directors urged to preserve music, drama

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on March 26, 2013 11:00 AM

Supporters of music and drama programs at Indiana Area schools urged the board of school directors Monday to preserve the program and keep the full staff and curriculum in the coming school year.

The announced retirements of arts department teachers Beth Grafton and Gretchen Barbor have students and parents worried that the district may not replace them in ongoing efforts to cut expenses in the district budget.

Barbor has taught for 35 years in the district, Grafton for 34 years.

The district has widely respected and high-quality programs, ranging from elementary school string music instruction to the high school drama program that won an invitation to the acclaimed Fringe Festival last summer in Scotland, according to spectators at the school board meeting.

Bev Mastalski told the directors that students learn more than acting, singing and how to make music from the arts faculty.

“They learn how to work with each other, they learn teamwork and all the skills that they need that they don’t get in any other area,” Mastalski said. “Don’t cut these kids off.”

Others spoke of the long-term impact of the arts on their own lives.

“I may not have been able to embark on future endeavors with unshakable confidence,” Dan Murphy said.

Frannie Hanna, an 11th-grade student, told the board she doesn’t consider theater a hobby but a potential career.

“If these talented teachers are not replaced, I and others are concerned that the drama and orchestra programs will be diminished,” Hanna said. “While I appreciate the fiscal challenges faced by our school board, I do not believe it makes educational or fiscal sense for the school board to treat these positions as dispensable.”

High school junior Thomas Nakrosis also urged the board to maintain the strength of the arts programs, and hire teachers “who know the music, know you and have the spark to inspire a group to do great things.”

Acting district Superintendent Dale Kirsch thanked district residents who contacted the office by phone or email to talk about the budget and staffing issues, and encouraged ongoing public input on the district’s budget planning.

“The first draft of the budget will be due around April 1, the academic committee will continue discussion about staffing, and the finance committee will take a broad look at the entire budget,” Kirsch said. “The preliminary budget April 1 will consider replacing all positions, but that budget will be unbalanced.”

The board has until June 30 to prepare and adopt a final balanced budget. Some of the budget planning documents are available on the district website, www.iasd.cc.

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