Principal, teacher placed on leave

Jaffrey-Rindge District officials not commenting on why, but address concerns about music program

Conant High School and Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School principal John Barth and a district music teacher have been placed on leave by the district, but at this time it is unclear why.

Jaffrey-Rindge School District Supt. James O’Neill confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Barth and a music teacher have been placed on leave, but declined to comment further, saying he could not speak publicly on personnel matters. Calls to Conant High School on Wednesday to speak with music teacher Leonard Holmes were referred to the Superintendent’s Office, but O’Neill would not confirm Holmes is the teacher on leave.

When asked why Barth and Holmes had been placed on leave, School Board Chair Daniel Whitney referred all questions to O’Neill.

In a subsequent email, O’Neill again declined to comment, writing that he had received legal advisement not to do so.

Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association President Tom Meehan, a middle school teacher, also declined to comment, saying he could not discuss personnel issues.

Asked about the process by which the union advocates for its teachers, Meehan said that if a teacher is fired, and they are in fact a member of the union, then the union would represent the interests of the teacher to the administration. He said that process would include looking at the teachers’ contract and could involve lawyers.

Meehan added that the union does everything in its power to protect its members when a teacher’s job is on the line. But asked if Barth or Holmes were members of the union, he declined to comment.

Barth and Holmes could not be reached by press time.

The news comes close on the heels of the School Board’s recent review of the 2014-15 district budget, following the proposed budget’s failure at the March polls. During the review, parents and student advocated for reversing an earlier decision to reduce a full-time music teacher position in the high school to half time. Holmes is the only music teacher at the high school.

The decision to cut the equivalent of one and a half teaching positions at the high school came after a school district budget review in December 2013. The reduction in the music program was not specified until after the deliberative session.

O’Neill said Wednesday that the administration waited for students to enroll in classes, so the district would have a better sense of enrollment low points. O’Neill said that the decision to reduce one and a half teacher positions had nothing to do with the voters’ rejection of the school district’s $26,019,402 proposed budget, and that the board had been considering it well before that time.

When their proposed budget was rejected, the board was required to work with the default budget of $25,541,923 and propose a new budget to the state — that was to occur within 20 days of the district’s annual meeting, in this case before March 31.

The district met the deadline after discussion of the budget and community input at the meeting on March 24.

It is not certain if the decision to place Barth and Holmes on leave has anything to do with the music program’s cut, the elimination of the Music Appreciation class at the high school, or the reduction of full-time equivalent music teacher position.

Currently there is one full-time music teacher position at the middle school and another full-time music teacher position at Conant — the teaching reduction will take place at the high school and reduce the music teacher position to half-time.

Throughout the weeks of school budget talks and looming staff cuts, concerned community members have voiced concerns about the music program cuts in letters to the Ledger-Transcript and at School Board meetings. The March 24 meeting in the Conant cafeteria drew a crowd that packed into the space to show their support of afterschool and summer programs, like QUEST and PEP, which had been up for budget cuts.

After receiving an outpour of support for the programs, the board voted not to cut the programs’ budgets.

O’Neill said declining enrollment at the high school overall and in the music program led to the decision to cut the Music Appreciation class as part of the proposed budget this year.

According to numbers provided by O’Neill on Wednesday, total enrollment at the high school has declined since 2009 from 538 students to 440 students in 2013. He said that enrollment projections by the New England School Development Council — the agency that does projections for the district — indicate that those numbers will not return to where they were in the foreseeable future.

Conant currently offers band with 60 students enrolled, choir with 50 students enrolled and instrumentals with 18 students enrolled.

According to O’Neill, Music Appreciation is a half-credit class, which is offered twice a year and would require a total enrollment of 50 to 60 students. He said that only 12 students had enrolled in the course in the 2013-2014 school year.

“We’re going to run all the courses that students have signed up for,” he added.

Asked about a letter to the editor written by Christina Ricard of Jaffrey, a parent in the district, who wrote that some students had tried to enroll for the class but were told they could not, O’Neill said he learned from the guidance department that the students who attempted to enroll were unable to do so because they had other courses required for graduation that were causing a scheduling conflict.

Hayden James can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or hjames@ledgertranscript.com.

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