It was standing room only for those gathered at Clairfield Elementary School last Thursday evening for the meeting, which promised controversy on two different topics. Board chairman Sam Owens opened the meeting stating that the board would hear information on those two topics before anything else: Rumor of closure for Clairfield School and the loss of band programs for both high schools.
A central issue of the evening was the abolishment of the band programs at the two county high schools. That action was taken during the April board meeting, much to the surprise of the students, parents and even the band directors themselves. Many in the audience were at the meeting to urge the board to rethink the decision.
One parent told the board that over 1,400 signatures had been gathered in support of the band programs.
“We need encouragement, not discouragement,” said Melesia Johnston, Cumberland Gap High School band parent.
Trent Williams, representing the school system, presented some numbers that he’d been given regarding band students. At Claiborne High School, the number of high school students in the band has dwindled from 72 in 2005-2006 to 19 for the 2009-2010 school year. The costs involved can be great, he said, adding that parents generally pay for the instruments. Johnston and others echoed that, saying they have to pay for just about everything regarding band.
“From the principal down, there’s no support for band,” she said.
Several students spoke out in support of the band program.
“I’d rather die than have someone tell me I can’t play in the band,” said CGHS band trumpet player Mitchell York. “Music is my way to express myself.”
CGHS band director Linda Ogan Smiddy told the board that the program just needs support, and presented evidence that music education helps students academically.
“Well, the board wants to look at new numbers,” said Sam Owens, board chairman, adding that the board is willing to take any action needed in order to keep the bands. “We don’t want to dissolve band. We’re working on it.”
The board agreed to work on another solution to the budget problems that would keep the band programs in place.
Also addressed was a rumor that Clairfield School was to be closed. After explaining that the board is very pleased with the success of Clairfield — “the scores have come from the bottom to the top,” Owens said — he clarified that the board has no plans to close the school at all.
The rumor seemed to stem from a survey sent to parents in Clairfield asking about busing children to both Cumberland Gap High School and Jellico. There’s a 50 percent failure rate for those students who go out of county to Jellico, he said.
Owens did, however, tell the audience that the board proposes running a bus from Clairfield to both Jellico and Cumberland Gap High School next year.
“So parents and students will have a choice,” he said. “There’s no hidden agenda. We’re simply trying to create educational opportunities for your children.”
Owens told the audience that the board hopes to keep the alternate buses going for at least two years.
Several in the audience expressed concern about the state of the road from Clairfield into Middlesboro, Ky., over Fonde Mountain — which would be the route the Cumberland Gap bus would take.
“I drove it today like a school bus would,” said audience member Glen Holston. “It would be great except for the danger. It’s going to hurt or injure a child. Believe me it’s not worth it. This is an accident waiting to happen.”
Others in the audience echoed concern about the length of the trip as well as how the transportation was being paid for.
“This board is extremely interested in Clairfield,” Eddie Shoffner, Director of Schools, told the audience. “We’re not trying to take it away.”
James Hatmaker, county commissioner for the Clairfield district, spoke up and called the route across Fonde Mountain twice a day “horrendous.”
Owens once again assured the audience that the board was trying to improve the choices for students and not take anything away.
In other routine business, the board approved two resolutions, voted to support the principal’s decision on student expulsions at Midway Elementary and postponed an agenda item regarding a cell phone policy.
The next board meeting is scheduled for June 9 at 7 p.m. at Ellen Myers School.