Parents of eighth-grade band students at Floyd Dryden Middle School say a proposed cut in band classes will shut off some students from an important lifelong activity.
But Principal Tom Milliron said all students who signed up for eighth-grade band can be accommodated in one large class. The elimination of one of two eighth-grade band classes is part of a reduction in staffing because of a tight budget districtwide.
"This really is just an invaluable band program," Dale Whitney, step-parent of a band student, said after a sometimes contentious site council meeting Monday night attended by about 100 parents, high school students and others.
Some parents also took their concerns to the Juneau School Board on Tuesday night. The board asked Superintendent Peggy Cowan to report back to it.
Dryden must cut its classes by an amount equal to 80 percent of a full-time teacher's load, which is four classes, Milliron said.
Superintendent Peggy Cowan said at Tuesday's School Board meeting that the full cut is equal to one teacher, but a choir teacher who is resigning would be replaced by someone teaching one fewer class.
Milliron said he intends to cut a seventh-grade extended-learning English class that had been taught as an exploratory class, which refers to courses such as the arts and foreign languages offered outside the regular curriculum. Instead, the class will be offered during a regular period at no extra cost.
He also would cut an eighth-grade math class for accelerated seventh-graders and for eighth-graders who needed extra help. And he would cut an eighth-grade history class and one of two sections of eighth-grade band.
Milliron said a committee of six staff members suggested the cuts, and he agreed.
They followed Milliron's guidelines not to cut an entire exploratory program, to minimize the class size in exploratories, and to maintain the middle-school model of team teaching, in which teachers of a group of students have a common preparation time.
Milliron said the school has about 35 more sixth-graders coming in than eighth-graders going out, and would need more regular classes.
"There's no room for cuts at the grade level," he said.
Of the proposed cuts, it was the band class that drew parents' concern at the site council meeting Monday.
Milliron said 56 students had signed up for eighth-grade band next school year and all could be accommodated in one large class. But band teacher Scott Black said he had surveyed the 91 seventh-grade band students and found at least 69 who wanted to take band next year. Considering absent students who didn't answer his survey and new students next year, the number could rise to 79, he said.
Parents had been drawn to the meeting by the assumption that half of the school's six band classes would be cut. But Milliron said the school, thanks to a grant, had to cut less than what was planned originally. Nonetheless, parents and high school students remained concerned that students would be left out of band.
One high school girl said, "Music is me. If I had been cut from music in middle school, I would not be the person I am. I would be a lot sadder."
Black and some parents suggested the eighth-grade choir class be cut instead, saying fewer students took that course and they could join a nonscholastic youth choir in Juneau. But others said the school choir was important to some students.
"There are some kids that love choir, that need choir because it's the one thing they excel in," said Faye Good, a parent and the Dryden registrar.
Milliron said he didn't want to cut the only class in eighth-grade choir, which is expected to enroll about 30 students.
But Milliron said he would bring the public's comments to the staff committee that advised him on the cuts. The final decision rests with the principal. In an interview, Black, the band teacher, said Milliron should have taken parent opinion into account before announcing the cuts.
Black also raised the question of how many students the fire code allows in the band room. He said city Fire Marshal Richard Etheridge recently examined the room and said only 49 people were allowed in it at one time.
Etheridge said in an interview Tuesday that 49 was the initial figure he gave, but it didn't take into account the band room's second exit and its sprinkler system. With those provisions, the room could hold many more than 56 people, according to the international fire code the city is adopting, he said. But the state Department of Education has different occupancy standards for school rooms, and he is researching those, he said.
The school has assumed for years that the room accommodates 56 people, based on a formula that takes into account its square footage, Milliron said.
Regardless of the legalities, 56 students in a class is unacceptable, parent Christine Hess said in an interview.
"It sets up the teacher for failure, and it sets up the kids for failure," she said.
Some members of the public Monday were upset about the state's level of education funding.
"I just feel frustrated over this as a reflection of a downward spiral that gets worse every year," said Whitney, a step-parent of a Dryden student. "I don't think of music as a frill."
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.