Damakant Jayshi

Members of the Wausau School Board on Monday reversed an earlier decision that would have eliminated the middle school band director position, after questions about enrollment numbers surfaced.

The move to reinstate Andrew Marrier came after about an hour-long debate on the matter. Marrier was informed in February his position, which serves both Horace Mann and John Muir, would be eliminated, and the board approved that decision in April. But soon after, members of the board say they were contacted by parents and members of the public with questions about the decision – and began questioning the rationale.

Board Member Pat McKee said he and others were misled about band enrollment numbers when approving the decision, as administrators insisted that interest in the music program was decreasing at the middle school level. But when he took a look at the numbers himself, he saw enrollment had increased, not decreased.

“This does not look like decreasing numbers which was the basis for the reductions (in staff) which is what we were told when we approved the reductions,” McKee said. “Are these numbers here accurate?” McKee shared a document that showed the numbers he referred to.

“They are actually not accurate but they are close,” HR Director Tabatha Gundrum said.

Gundrum and Director of Secondary Education Jennifer Rauscher gave a spirited defense of the administration’s decision to eliminate the position. They cited budgetary reasons, including the uncertainties of the state budget allocation to education, and equitable distribution of staff across the district.

Citing the increase in middle school band enrollment, Board Clerk Karen Vandenberg also argued in favor of reinstating the band teacher. However, board Vice President Lance Trollop said the move would set a bad precedent, that the board was interfering with the administration’s decision.

Vandenberg questioned the equitable distribution rationale.

“What I have heard from the community and tonight, those lessons are more critical at the middle school level,” Vandenberg said, referring to the feedback she said she heard from the community and the public comments by speakers who spoke Monday in favor of retaining the band position.

Board President James Bouche said music is considered part of the core curriculum, adding that students who excelled in music also typically do well in mathematics and science. He said he is concerned that the decision to eliminate band could have a negative impact on students.

Gundrum said she disagreed with Bouche and said she failed to see an understanding by the board regarding why the decision was made in April.

Both Gundrum and Rauscher said that they are not opposed to music but made the decision after discussing it with principals and other teachers, and looking at the budget and staff allocation.

Trollop supported Gundrum and Rauscher’s points and asked a series of rhetorical questions including whether the band is the right place to invest $100,000.

He cited a hypothetical example of an elementary school with a very large class that could benefit by splitting into two if an additional teacher were allocated there, or adding a reading instructor’s position to a school where students struggling with reading.

“This is the problem that we get into when we as a board try to take on a role of the administration,” Trollop said. “I don’t think it is right for us to look into this one position and say, ‘this is where that $100,000 position ought to go’ if we also not willing to take on instead to look at the entire thing and hear from all the schools and all the parents.”

McKee responded by saying he would be happy to look into other aspects but in this instance they had no other option. He added that he had voted in favor of eliminating the position when told of decreasing numbers of enrollment which turned out not to be true. So, he changed his vote.

Before the vote, Rauscher asked if the board was only reinstating the position which the administration would then have to fill in through a regular hiring process. McKee categorically said the motion was to reinstate Marrier. His motion to reinstate was passed by a majority vote, with Trollop the lone dissenter.

Bouche told Gundrum and Rauscher that they should not take the board’s decision as a rebuke or feel that they had not done their work appropriately. He also commended his board colleagues for the “passionate” debate.