What does it mean to be a successful and endeared teacher? For the parents of Thomas Dale High School (TDHS) Band Director David Holley’s students, it means 1,068 signatures on a petition, it means heartfelt comments and tears from former and current band members, and it means calls and meetings with school board members.
More than 40 band parents and students arrived last week at the Chesterfield School Board Meeting to show their support for Mr. Holley. As part of next year’s fiscal budget the School Board must cut more positions in order to remain financially viable. Matoaca School Board Member Tom Dolland said the board has already scraped to the bone and there’s no more meat to scrape.
But that hasn’t discouraged the TDHS band members and their parents. The group presented their case at a community budget meeting last Wednesday and attended the School Board meeting the following evening. Their message and mantra is that Holley is critical to the program, school, and community.
“Mr. Holley has been the best band teacher I have ever had,” said Cody Tomney in an email to the Village News. He is truly my inspiration. I have never seen a teacher that cares so much about his students.”
Recent state and Federal education mandates have forced schools across Virginia to offer classes that redistribute local school funds to mandated classes rather than electives. Thomas Dales Specialty Center for the Arts classes are primarily all elective classes. At least a dozen parents and students last week spoke to the school board.
“The school budget is having a negative impact on our specialty center for the visual and performing arts at Dale as well as the across the county,” said Lisa Hara, president of the TDHS Band Boosters. “Lack of full funding for the new personal finance class mandate is causing classes to be removed and positions, particularly teaching positions, to be changed and or surplused.”
Hara said many families have move to the Bermuda District due to the specialty center. They want the best education in arts for their students in Virginia right here in central Virginia.
“Because our specialty center is elective-based, it is disproportionately affected by these unfunded mandates,” Ms. Hara added. “If the current school board budget is enacted, the specialty center at Dale will not remain the same.”
“We as board members see the holes we have due to years of lack of resources and that is something that we cannot solve as a body on our own,” said Carrie Coyner, Bermuda District School Board Member. “It really takes our entire community to decide what we want for education and then to be vocal throughout the process, not once things that we love have been taken or as they are eliminated. We have to be mindful and watch all the time.”
At some point the resources become scarce and what we’re seeing on top of that is additional requirements put on us. What we’re seeing for next year is the increase section for personal finance and a principal has to figure out a way to add 16 new sections of a course to their building and it’s not that you don’t want everything else.”
She said it’s difficult to have the requirements without shuffling everything around and that’s a reality our principals are faced with.
Coyner said that the county’s budget and audit committee has had a conversation about how to handle unfunded mandates and will begin discussion about where county money is being spent.
“In the last four years, this school system has lost almost $100 million. Every student in this district has been hurt by these cuts,” said Marcus Newsome PhD, Chesterfield Schools Superintendent. “We’ve cut psychologists, secretaries, librarians, instructional assistants, reading teachers; we’ve cut benefits, technology staff and these cuts have been indiscriminant. He continued that this year during budget hearings on a $500 million budget, there were six people to speak. Last year on a half-billion dollar budget, two people spoke out of 316,000 people in the county.
Dr. Newsome said, “It’s unfortunate that we are at this place today, but I would hope that this is a catalyst for engagement and involvement and advocacy not for each individual preference but for all the children.”
During last week’s board meeting, those who attended on behalf of Mr. Holley seemed undaunted and even today continue to sign an online petition to save their beloved band director.
Eileen Carey, number 1061 on the online petition commented from White Hall, Md., “My daughter had Mr. Holley as a teacher and enjoyed school for the first time in a long time... she was totally engaged in the class and eager to participate. For a school of the performing arts you want the best of the best in educators and Mr. Holley is ‘The Best’ educator in the music department and should be kept on staff. He has brought music and learning to new heights and to lose him would be a sad day in the history of Thomas Dale.”
Dr. Newsome said he will work with Thomas Dale parents on the issue over the next several weeks.