SM East says band programs will remain intact, but parent concerns linger

SM East students held protest signs outside the Shawnee Mission School Board meeting last month.

Last month band students and parents turned out in big numbers to protest cuts to the band program at SM East. The school now says that all of the band-related courses at SM East will be taught again next year. But the news may not be enough to alleviate the concerns of band supporters.

The protest began over word that band director Kim Harrison’s position would be cut from full to part-time at the school and that the two prestigious jazz bands would be folded into the same instruction hour. Parents protested that the cuts and consolidation would damage the music program. The past year a full quarter of the students who made the Kansas State Jazz Band came from SM East.

John McKinney, who will assume the role of principal at SM East next year, said all of the instructional band programs will remain intact:

All band-related courses offered last year at SME will once again be offered next year, including a separated Jazz 1 & Jazz 2 class.  Mr. Harrison has been assigned to teach 4 classes here at East.  He will teach Marching, Theory, Jazz 1 and Jazz 2.  SMSD’s Human Resources department will schedule the remainder of his day.  I am confident that the East community will continue to see a strong, dedicated performing arts department next year and for many years to come.

There are seven periods in a day and by contract teachers get a planning period, Five teaching hours is considered full-time, McKinney said. Harrison’s other hour will likely be transit time to another school.

Neal Eidemiller, Band Boosters co-president, said “just keeping the two jazz bands is not the bottom line.” Anything short of full-time at East is not satisfactory, he said, because it is not a benefit to the students. The concern, he added, is not with the teacher, but with the program. When Harrison is off-site it “severs the lifeline” to students. “His time is invaluable in the building. He is there after school and at games (and events). We have no idea how many hours he is there.” If Harrison is off-site, it will affect the program, Eidemiller contends, because Harrison makes himself available to individual students every hour he is not teaching a class. This is “an open question still” for the band supporters, he added.

Earlier, Principal Karl Krawitz had said SM East is faced with a decline of 100 students which called for a reduction in several teaching positions. Eidemiller says this also raises a question of equality across the district if other band programs are not affected.