“I realized that we as students are a powerful voice,” Coons said Monday night. “And we have to come together and try to save his job. Without him, we’re not a band. The band program would not be the same without him.”
Coons also said the students are wearing shirts at school on Tuesdays and Thursdays in support of Thomas, writing letters to the editor and school board, and wearing their white marching shoes on Fridays as a symbolic gesture of support for the assistant band director.
Band parent and Thomas supporter Nola Daughtry said, “I think his loss would affect the program in many ways. The jazz band would be gone, the percussion section won’t be the same, and the tuba sections – he impacts the band in so many ways. And not one person can handle over 200 kids. Not one person can teach them all and keep it at the performance level that this community expects.”
Cairo High School band parents and supporters gathered for a second meeting on Monday to voice concerns over a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis to reassign Assistant Band Director Michael Thomas to an elementary music education teaching position during the instructional day.
In an effort to address a large budget shortfall, the superintendent is using attrition, reduction in force and reassignment of personnel to make up for lost dollars due to state budget cuts.
Thomas, who was hired by the Grady County school board as an assistant band director in July, 2003, would keep his supplement and 11-month contract in conjunction with his new assignment, and would assist Band Director Johnny Folsom after school and during summer band camp.
Band Booster President and spokesperson Martha Prince told about 30 band parents, students and supporters who attended the meeting at Roddenbery Memorial Library’s Grady room that she hoped the group could develop a plan for retaining Thomas at CHS during the instructional day. She added that local Pastor Johnny Moore would present a proposal to the Board of Education outlining reasons to retain Thomas in his full-time position at the next board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 14.
Prince asked band parent Jeff Lovett to update the group regarding the superintendent’s proposal and facilitate a discussion and brainstorming session for the purpose of developing an alternative plan they could present to the board. Lovett had recently met with the superintendent and two board members and explained what he understood to be the board’s position and rationale for reassigning Thomas.
Lovett said, “The reason they are moving Mr. Thomas is because the school gets federal funding from the government, full-time equivalent (FTE), and each teacher must teach three sections to qualify for the FTE money.”
Lovett explained that years ago someone suggested the school system hire a second band director at the high school, but there was no federal or state money available. “So, one hundred percent of his salary comes out of local money.”
As part of a strategy for reducing the budget deficit, “Pharis looked at how everyone was being paid. And everyone that was being paid with one hundred percent local money is either getting ‘let go’ or they are getting moved to a position where they can earn that FTE money,” explained Lovett. “Thomas is being moved because he must teach three periods a day in order for the school system to qualify for the FTE money.”
He also said that several varsity football coaches were being moved to elementary physical education teaching positions for the same purpose.
Many suggestions were presented such as raising a portion of Thomas’ salary through fundraising efforts or reassignment within the high school. After approximately an hour of brainstorming, the group decided that mobilization of force and vocalizing their concerns to the superintendent and board members in letters, phone calls, face-to-face meetings may be the best approach considering the limited amount of time before the April board meeting. The band boosters are planning a large show of support “in numbers” for retaining Thomas at the April 14 board meeting, and are hopeful that the board will use an alternative meeting room that will accommodate all those who wish to attend.
At the Monday night meeting, attendees signed a letter of support for Thomas that will be presented to the Grady County Board of Education at the next regularly scheduled meeting in April.
The letter reads: “Cairo High School Band has been a leader and an icon in the arena of high school bands for the past 50+ years. They are recognized in this light, not only in the State of Georgia, but also across the nation, as well. The fruit of this program speaks for itself – academic excellence; quality musicians; community involvement; college scholarships; college graduates; career musicians and educators; responsible citizens; etc. We believe this level of excellence and tradition should continue to be a priority in our school system and our community. We further believe that for this level of excellence to be continued, that priority should be given to do whatever is necessary to insure that every position that is presently held in the Cairo High School Band Program be continued.
“We hereby request that the full time position of Assistant Director of Bands, presently held by Michael Thomas, be reinstated into the Grady County School Budget and that Michael Thomas be allowed to continue to serve in this position.”
According to Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis, in his new role Thomas would assume responsibility for the elementary music programs at Northside, Eastside and Southside elementary schools during the instructional day. The superintendent says Thomas would continue to work at CHS in the band department after school and during the summer months.
Currently, Pharis said the band directors at Shiver and Whigham schools teach general music classes in addition to their duties as band directors. Washington Middle School has a full-time band director and music teacher.