Caldwell Loses Its Pep, Plus Other Programs
What JCHS students aren't doing after-school this year as a result of budget cuts.
Some traditions endure, some fade away, still others fall victim to tough economic times. The latter is the case for the James Caldwell High School pep band, which has not been present at home football games this fall due to funding for the music program being eliminated from the school district's budget.
Cutting the pep band–which would lead fans in "war chants," collaborate with cheerleaders and provide all-around entertainment at Chiefs' home games and pep rallies–saved the Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools in excess of $5,000, according to Scott Chamberlain, the school's music supervisor.
Chamberlain said that the pep band and the woodwind ensemble, which was also cut, had the least amount of student involvement. The woodwind ensemble had only a handful of student participants and saved the schools about $2,500, which was used to pay for such things as a supervisor and ordering music.
"We are not in a great situation statewide," Chamberlain said. "In all honesty, I think we faired fairly well. I credit that to the good management skills of our business administrator (Ronald Skopak) and superintendent (Daniel Gerardi)."
In total, nine non-athletic extracurricular activities were cut from the Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools' final budget of $39,734,764, which was approved by a public vote in April.
Other non-athletic activities not available to students this year because of tightened spending are the literary magazine, as well as the Spanish, Italian, Environmental and Ecology clubs. Not running these activities in the 2010-2011 school year represents a total of approximately $22,000 in savings, according to Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools Superintendent Daniel A. Gerardi.
Athletic activities also took a hit. "Approximately $30,000 was reduced in the extracurricular athletic accounts," Gerardi said, "resulting in the abolishment of coaching positions in several sports, including football, track, wrestling and cheering." He added, "It is important to state that no athletic programs were abolished."
The State Department of Education announced in March that the Caldwell-West Caldwell school district would lose all state aid, which amounted to a loss of $1,567,292 for the district. Caldwell-West Caldwell was one of 59 school districts in the state that lost all state aid for 2010-2011 as part of Gov. Chris Christie's belt-tightening measures.
The Caldwell-West Caldwell budget also included the elimination of 25 special education aides, six high school athletic coaching positions, three high school teachers, two resource room teachers and one elementary school teacher, a custodian, a maintenance worker and a secretary.
Bobby Peters, a junior, played in the pep band as a sophomore. He said the games just aren't the same without the band. "It just really changes the atmosphere of the game," Peters said. He also misses the extra credit that pep band gave him as a student. "I'm upset that band is only going to count for five credits instead of six," Peters said.
Carolyn Jochem's son, JCHS senior Andrew Jochem, played trumpet in the pep band his freshman through junior years.
"If they had the pep band this year, he would have done it," she said. But her son is looking at the positive side, Jochem said, and enjoying his new role as spectator. "He kind of wanted to hang out in the stands with his friends, which is something he never had a chance to do," she said.
Jochem sits on the executive board of the high school's Music & More Booster Club. Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools have traditionally had a strong music program, she said, citing the symphony and jazz band and two concert bands, as well as several choral groups, including Women of Note and Madrigals.
"The music people don't like to see their programs cut without having sports cut as well," said Jochem, acknowledging that the district took measures to make cuts across the board. "The emphasis that the school district placed on the band is really concert band, and so the pep band was something that a number of kids wanted to do, but at the same time when they got into high school there were a number of kids who dropped out."
With its requirement that students be at home football games, participating in pep band prevented some students from playing fall sports, she explained.
Only a few weeks into the school year, students and parents seem to be okay with the cuts that were made in light of the struggling economy.
"At this point in the school year, I have not personally received feedback from parents about the reductions," Gerardi said. "I am hopeful that the community realizes that under our current budgetary conditions virtually all aspects of the district budget were reviewed and analyzed. Reductions were made in a balanced way and most importantly, while reductions were made, I am pleased to say that no instructional program was eliminated."
For now, musical entertainment at JCHS's cherished football games will be improvised. The athletic and music programs, Gerardi reported, have collaborated to provide alternatives to the pep band–recorded music and cheers are being broadcasted to the fans with the aid of the new electronic video scoreboard.