Milford sixth-grade band program in limbo

Hopes that an agreement had been reached concerning the status of the Milford sixth grade band proved to be in error, as no consensus has yet been made between the Milford School Board and a private fine arts association.

Earlier this summer, the Miami Glen Performing Arts Center offered to raise more than $17,000 to pay for a part-time teacher to teach the program, which had been cancelled due to the loss of an operating levy. That offer, however, remains in limbo.

Bill Knepp, a representative of Miami Glen, said that the money is a grant, plain and simple, and should be easily accepted by the schools to fund the program. On the other hand, Milford Schools say that the offer, however generous, falls outside the realm of school policy and most likely cannot be accepted. Both sides say they hope to come to some sort of agreement soon so that the program can be implemented.

“We have not come to an agreement,” said Knepp. “We have never recognized the fact that we’ve had a contract or agreed on anything. All we want to do is give the school a grant, and they don’t want to accept our grant. They want us to hire a band director, but we’re not in the hiring business. If they can accept a grant from everyone else, why not us?”

According to Knepp, the spirit behind the money was to give Milford Schools enough cash to hire a teacher and administer the program. According to Knepp, however, the school board has instead asked that Miami Glen use the money and hire their own director, which would then allow the program to continue, but be administered by Miami Glen instead of Milford Schools. Knepp said that that outcome would not be possible. For one, he said, there is an issue of liability where the children are concerned. Another obstacle is that, as a non-profit, Miami Glen is not allowed to hire employees.

“Where’s the contract?” said Knepp. “We’re a 501c3. Our whole charter is to look after the performing arts in the Milford/Miami Township area and bring performing arts here. We’ve offered the school money in the past, and they’ve repeatedly turned us down without explanation as to why they don’t want it. The question is, is the school really strapped for money? Is this a power play, the board saying that you do it our way and pass a levy or you don’t do it?”

Valerie Miller, Communications Coordinator for Milford Schools, said that there are several issues preventing the school board from accepting the money.

“We were hoping that it was resolved,” said Miller. “The board is still standing by their initial response to the offer that they cannot accept money earmarked for certain programs that were cut. There is a potential to set a precedent where people can come forward and sponsor other programs. The board has to provide a fair education to all public school students and not just students who have people who want to support them financially.”

The problem, she said, comes from the selectivity of allowing school programs to be funded by the public. Creating an environment where one program is supported, but another is not, sets up an unfair environment for students. In addition to that, there is also a matter of board policy that prevents such grants from being accepted.

“When the district goes for grants, we seek out grants for programs the board has already decided to put in place,” said Miller. “This is a grant that is from the outside coming in that stipulates what the program will be. That’s the difficulty, the board policy says that boards can’t accept donations from outside groups earmarked or stipulated for a certain use. This offer goes against policy. The board and administrators are still looking to see if there is any possible solution.”

Allowing the public to stipulate uses would, in effect, take a measure of control of curriculum away from the schools. That would create a problem for the board, which is responsible for setting curriculum and administering programs.

Now, however, as the program resolution remains in limbo, Miami Glen has ceased its fund-raising efforts until a definitive answer is given. Already, Knepp said that some $7,000 has been spent by the nonprofit in printing and mailing to raise funds.

“We’re waiting for a simple yes or no,” said Knepp. “We’ve suspended our fund-raising efforts until then. At this point, we’re close to $7,000 in cost in letters, envelopes, return envelopes and pledge cards. The money that’s donated will be sent back (if they say refuse the grant).”

Miller said that the board is trying to find a solution, and is also looking to see if there is enough interest in the program to warrant the expenditure. To date, she said, there has been little feedback from parents concerning the loss of the band.

“Miami Glen wants to provide the money, but not the coordination of the program,” said Miller. “I believe there always were good intentions on both parts. But at this point, the situation will not be able to be worked out in the way it was intended. The board is going back and forth with administrators and program directors to see if there is any way to have a program at all. Also, they want to see how many students are interested. We’ve heard a lot from Miami Glen, but not much from parents with kids in the program. We’ve not heard an outcry from parents on this program. We’re uncertain.”

Miller added that, if reinstated, the program would not include transportation services like it has in the past, which may also drive membership in the band downward.