Nearly 300 West Des Moines Residents Demand School Board Rethink Proposed Cuts; Board to Decide Tonight
Concerned parents and students packed Monday's West Des Moines school board meeting nearly an hour before discussion about budget cuts began. The board will announce its decision at a meeting Tuesday night.
Cutting foreign languages, music programs and reading teachers is unacceptable.
That’s what more than 300 people Monday who packed the West Des Moines school board meeting told officials.
“The proposed changes would have an enormous negative impact on students,” said Rebecca Ihnen, a Valley High School student who supports the school’s vocal programs.
District spokeswoman Elaine Watkins Miller said proposed cuts in reading teachers, and to the music and language programs are needed to offset an unspecified budget shortfall.
The Des Moines Register reports that five elementary reading teachers – who work full-time in classrooms to help struggling readers – would be reassigned to other positions to free up finances for the district to hire five reading-instruction coaches who would work with teachers.
Other controversial proposals include phasing out the school’s Japanese language program, not filling an opening in the vocal department created by a teacher who resigned, and reassigning one of the band program’s full-time instructors — Tony Garmoe — to mainly an elementary band position, the newspaper reported.
Parents and teachers said they were shocked by the proposed cuts. They felt the cuts were rushed and they want to know exactly how much money the district is citing as shortfall to justify the cuts.
Residents Vent for Nearly Four Hours Monday Night
Emotions ran high at the meeting. One speaker cried and dabbed at her eyes with tissues.
Audience members clapped and cheered. A few pounded the podium. They clutched their own research and read letters from others. They demanded answers – and they continued to so for more than three hours.
Drama, band and vocal music “is what makes society…,” said Mary Campbell.
“There are other options that have not been explored,” said Michele De Clerck.
Residents said the cuts would burden remaining staff and limit the choices students have. They also worry that their highly regarded music and language programs will lose luster and never be restored.
“Staffing reductions are on hold and have not been finalized,” said board member H. Milton Cole. School officials said they will make staffing recommendations at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the school district headquarters.
Phil Peters, president of the West Des Moines Education Association, along with other teachers, said there has been a “lack of transparency” about the decisions and budget shortfall.
Students Speak Out Against Proposed Cuts
Students said reading and language teachers helped give them confidence. They said music teachers were inspirational.
Kathryn Catellier, an eighth-grader in the district, said she had long wanted to take Japanese. She even handed out fliers to other students, she said.
“Cutting these programs is making other people suffer and that includes me,” she said. “I just hope you guys reconsider. These languages and music departments are so important.”
Alice Fulk-Wisner, a parent said her daughter, Mary, now at Drake University, doesn’t reminisce about physics, but the arts.
“She tells me she misses singing and her choir experience and choir director,” she said.
Jake Thaker, a Valley High School student, urged the board to rethink its decision. He called Valley High School Band Director Tony Garmoe an “idol, visionary, artist, mentor and guide,” among other things.
“I love being in band,” he said. “I love being called a band geek.”
Opponents Worry Schools Will Lose Their Luster
Chris Gilbertson, a French teacher, said the cuts would be a “direct hit to the quality of our programming.”
Sheila Hudson, co-president of Valley Voices, a parent booster group said, members have extreme concerns. “We will not lower our expectations and standards.”
Parent Deborah Morris moved here from Kansas. She said she was stunned when her son, Raheem, 17, a junior at Valley High School, wanted to take Japanese
“I have found that the West Des Moines district has been very fine for my children,” she said.
Raheim, in his third year of Japanese, said it’s “ridiculous” that the district is considering cutting Japanese and he attended the board meeting to support his teacher.
Wade Petersen, a French and English language teacher at Valley Southwoods and 2004 Iowa Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, said there is a need in the district for “clarity and transparency.”
“I think there is a lot of confusion in the district as to what is going on,” he said.
He said typically when language programs are cut they are gone forever.
“Schools do not refund and restart up programs,” he said.
He left the board with a concern shared by many in the audience.
“Are we doing what’s best for kids?” he said.