Just days after the musical 42nd St. was performed by 50 students at Amenia High School, the Webutuck School Board presented its preliminary budget that brought out students, faculty, parents and members of the community who were concerned that the budget eliminated the vocal and instrumental instructor line now held by Lee Stowe, the teacher who directs the musical and vocal parts of the school musicals.
The board heard speakers extol the value of music in the school curriculum and how eliminating Mr. Stowe’s position threatened the annual musical that has become a tradition. They said the popularity and excitement that the musical generates motivated four graduating students to seek careers in music.
Janet Reagon, a former Webutuck teacher, said “Now, once again, the Board of Education is planning to eliminate the part-time Vocal Music position held by Mr. Lee Stowe. What they will lose far outweighs any amount they will save. Mr. Stowe makes students believe that they can get up and sing in front of an audience, and he gives them the vocal training to back it up. Further, he is a skilled pianist who accompanies the students in rehearsal. Eliminating the position will drastically impact the entire music program.” Reagon mentioned that she also had been a Webutuck student and Webutuck parent.
Reagon and others voiced their opinion that eliminating this position would effectively end the tradition of the spring musical. Others said ending the school musical would be devastating, as it is one of the more popular enrichment programs in the school.
James Wheeler, a junior, who played a leading role in 42nd Street (Julian Marsh) described his experience. “We had a great show here that went really well and was well-liked by the community….the choir is the one place I can go to feel like I am really alive and living in the moment. Try going a day without humming a tune or singing a song. For most people, that started when a music teacher exposed them to the world of music.”
A community resident, Anthony Poveromo said, “We are talking about a program that grooms kids to be able to go out into the world. I saw self-confidence being built on that stage. These kids worked fourteen hours a day to make this show happen. That experience is irreplaceable.” A young man, Sean Conroy, who could only speak hesitatingly, spoke of being unable to stand up and speak in class until being in the play and that now he is able to speak in public.
Neither the superintendant nor the school board explained why the part-time music position that had cost $41,000 was being eliminated.
It is now widely-recognized that student involvement in music has a positive impact on other subjects, including math and language development. Former Webutuck teacher Janet Reagon referred to the new federal “Every Student Succeeds Act”, that enumerates music as a stand-alone subject that is considered to be an important component of a well-rounded education.
Over a dozen students spoke out at the budget hearing as well as the other music department faculty, Eric Weiner and Nancy Gagne. The Superintendent tried to say that it was a matter of the position itself, not the person holding the position, but the students would have none of it. They insisted that it was a matter of this particular teacher being extremely skilled at bringing out their vocal talents, and that eliminating his position would drastically impact the program.
Janet Reagon made the strongest case for keeping Stowe’s position. She said:
“Music and art are integral parts of a quality education. The music program has produced graduates who have become professional musicians, but more importantly, it has given others an appreciation and a love of music that can sustain them through a lifetime.”
She continued, “This program works. It would be a travesty for the board to unravel it. Teachers are not widgets—eliminating a teacher with his brilliance will do irreparable damage to the music program. He is the vocal specialist on the faculty.”
She mentioned that four seniors are contemplating a career in musical performance aand that would not have happened except for Mr. Stowe’s nurturing the students’ talent.
“.…The quality of the performances gives pride to everyone associated with Webutuck. As I took care of the box office, I was struck with the number of current students, faculty members, retired teachers and staff who attended; the number of graduates who came back to support the actors, and the number of the community members who attended despite not having any children or grandchildren participating. None of those people want to see a diminishment of the program at Webutuck.
“… I know how important music is to develop the whole person, and how important it is for individual students. Over the years I have watched children develop self-confidence, maturity and poise as they participated in the music program. This is a program that works because of the dedication of the teachers and the support of the community. “
At the end of the meeting, after hearing the emotional pleas of the students, Superintendent Ray Castellani said he wanted to meet with the music teachers to explore other ways of looking for funding for the position.
There will be another budget hearing on Monday, March 21.