Students, De Soto board debate hiring of accompanist
No decisions either way have been made, but a choir accompanist at Mill Valley High School may be in the school’s future after students, parents and the school’s choir director made impassioned pleas for the addition Monday night.
But that’s still a big may, with the issue of funding keeping several board members on the fence.
“We know that this isn’t the only request for staff that we couldn’t fund with our limited budget,” said Tim Blankenship, board president.
Those asking for an accompanist during the patron input portion of the meeting argued that choir director Sheree Stoppel wasn’t able to give the attention to students that they need when she also must split her time learning the accompaniment. Instead of standing in front of the choir, Stoppel essentially conducts from the seat behind the piano, where “she can’t hear all the mistakes that we may be making,” said junior Emily Leonard.
“It’s hard to pick out all those little different things that you can hear behind a podium,” she said.
Senior Misty Adkins said not having someone out front and center to guide her had “taken away from me as a student.”
Mill Valley’s choir and choral ensembles are growing, Stoppel said. Currently there are 54 students in mixed choir and 48 in the Jag Chorale.
“We’ve reached a point where they have to have a conductor to follow,” she said. “I need to be able to assess them and give them immediate feedback.”
Alvie Cater, district spokesman, said Mill Valley had never had a part-time or full-time accompanist on staff. De Soto High School also doesn’t have an accompanist.
The request on the table, said parent Dave Hanson, was for a part-time accompanist, who would work three to four hours per day with the choirs, five days per week, and also during performances. The going rate for such an accompanist, he said, is about $15 to $20 an hour.
“It certainly isn’t the lowest amount, but it certainly isn’t the highest,” he said, looking at area districts such as Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Basehor-Linwood. “We are the only area 5A school that doesn’t have an accompanist on staff as part of the annual budget.”
Though board members didn’t directly address the issue during patron input, a lengthy and, at times, heated discussion between attendees and those sitting at the board table developed later in the meeting. Board members Bill Fletcher and Tammy Thomas were vocal in their support of the request.
“I can’t sit here and say that we shouldn’t support our choir in this capacity. It’s essential. We have a growing program,” said Thomas. “My question then would be if we’re not going to support it now, what’s the magic number when we start supporting it?”
Other board members questioned why the staffing request was brought to the board in the first place. Member Dick Dearwester said he was under the mistaken impression that Mill Valley administrators had met with the concerned parents already and a solution had been worked out as to how the accompanist could be paid for with building funds.
“It really is not a function of us as it relates to teaching or to teachers,” Dearwester said, “and it really needs to be an element of the administration of that particular school.”
It’s not that the district doesn’t want to provide the service, said Superintendent Doug Sumner, who added, “I would love nothing more than to let you leave tonight and go home happy.”
“We’ve had to say ‘no’ to so many people that now I have to find a way to justify this against those things,” he said, referencing the district’s reduced staff in such areas as counseling and English language learners.
Sumner and other board members agreed that a decision couldn’t be made so quickly, but Sumner invited further discussion on the subject.
“What I’d like to see us do is I’d like to see us turn the corner on this conversation a bit from a staffing issue to an instructional issue,” said Sumner. “I think (that) is the best leg for this request to stand on. ...That’s something that we need to do and see where that takes us.”