Spring Cove comes under fire

ROARING SPRING – Officially, Thursday night’s board meeting at the Spring Cove Elementary gymnasium was “for the presentation of the report by Architectural Innovations.”

But for the more than 200 people who filled rows of folding chairs and stood against the back wall, it was all about budget cuts.

Spectators packed the gymnasium – a vastly larger venue than the board’s normal meeting room – mostly to protest Spring Cove School District’s preliminary budget and its accompanying program cuts, which would include three teacher furloughs.

Anticipating a long, tense night, Roaring Spring police officers were posted outside the room while private security guards patrolled the halls.

It was a far larger audience than usual for the district’s architectural contractors, who spent more than an hour describing their long-term assessment of Spring Cove’s buildings. Some audience members, who had waited quietly for a chance to address the board, murmured as an engineer solicited questions.

“We came to see why we wouldn’t have a band,” a woman shouted suddenly, eliciting scattered applause.

Rows of students in Central High School Marching Band shirts sat behind her, protesting the announcement this week that music teacher and marching band director Dustin Rainey would be furloughed at the end of the school year.

Apparently sensing the crowd’s building tension, board members thanked the architects and ushered them out.

But before the board opened the floor to the 34-person speaking list, Superintendent Robert Vadella took up a microphone to try to dispel some of the budget myths apparently circulating among students and parents.

“First and foremost, we are not cutting band,” Vadella said. Rainey’s work as band director is distinct from his teaching job, Vadella said, and a new director can be found regardless of the shrinking music staff.

Under a preliminary budget, set for possible final approval next month, the district will employ three high school-level music teachers instead of four.

Vadella repeated many of the points he’s made in recent weeks: Spring Cove faces a more than $1 million budget deficit, and that figure will grow without serious changes. Rising costs and dwindling state funds could make the problem worse in coming years.

But few seemed to accept his explanation that planned programs – like a new science-education system and a one-laptop-per-student initiative – could cost nothing or even save money in the long run.

One by one, students and parents took the microphone to lambast Rainey’s dismissal.

Richard Shingler of Duncansville compared the music department to a car: If you deflate one of the four tires, he said, you render it inoperable.

Shingler exceeded his speaking time, ignoring board President Jeff Brennecke’s commands and the banging of his gavel.

“I’ve sat and listened for an hour and 52 minutes,” Shingler said angrily when board member Kevin Warner approached him, a security guard waiting nearby.

Some students ignored Vadella’s assurances that the marching band would remain, explaining that an already overstretched music staff would be unable to advise a growing student organization. One, a junior, vowed to transfer to a cyberschool if the band is harmed.

Board members watched closely, some taking notes, as the students and parents spoke.

“This band has had very little funding and virtually no support from the school board for 10 years,” said Barbara Bosar of Martinsburg, who noted that she’d once sought to fill an open board seat. “And now you want to take their band director?”

Bosar attacked the board’s alleged secrecy in planning the budget, to overwhelming applause.

“This administration seems to have kept things as quiet as possible for as long as possible,” she said. “Our kids pay for the decisions of this board.”