The band plays on at Gold Beach High School, despite the effort of the teachers union to stop the music

Jun 13, 2013 by

GOLD BEACH, Ore. – There’s still a marching and concert band at Gold Beach High School, despite the local teachers unions effort to shut it down.

The band was scheduled to be eliminated after the 2010-11 school year, due to deep budget cuts in the cash-strapped Central Curry school district.

It was saved momentarily by two well-qualified volunteers who offered to direct the band for free. The first volunteer died in the middle of the 2011-12 school year, but the second stepped up without hesitation.

Things were working well until a round of teacher layoffs were imposed after the 2011-12 school year. The teachers union couldn’t abide the idea of having a volunteer direct the school band while full-time, dues-paying teachers were losing their jobs, so they filed a complaint with the state about the band director’s lack of proper teaching credentials.

The state forced the district to shut the band down, leaving the union with an ugly victory that angered an entire community.

But the union’s success was only temporary. The students wanted to keep playing, the volunteer band leader agreed to stay on, and the group resurfaced as an off-campus club with a great deal of support from the community.

The moral of the story? Angry labor leaders can do their best to kill educational opportunities for students, but a tightly knit community that cares about its children can overcome any type of union nonsense.

As Dave Duffy, husband of the volunteer band director, told the Curry Coastal Pilot, “More people in the community will step forward to fill the voids left by budget cutbacks in education. This is very healthy. I think there are a lot of adults in our communities with talent and an eagerness to help out. They’ve been left out of the education mix for too long.”

A matter of revenge


When the Central Curry School District was facing budget cuts after the 2010-11 school year, Gold Beach High School officials had to choose between keeping their art or music departments. They chose to keep the arts.

The band’s fate seemed to be sealed when the band director left to accept a job as a music teacher in Eugene, Oregon.

Then Norm Rowe, a bus driver for the district and a musician with the local Curry Del Norte Orchestra, volunteered to be the band’s director. Unfortunately Rowe died of a heart attack in the middle of the 2011-12 school year.

That’s when Lenie Duffy followed in Rowe’s footsteps and volunteered for the position.

Duffy was ideal for the job. She was a credentialed California teacher for nine years, served as the accompanist for the school choir, and volunteered in local classrooms for 15 years.

She knew all the students quite well.

The band prospered under Duffy’s leadership, coming within a hair of winning the district festival competition near the end of the 2011-12 school year.

But the school district’s financial problems prompted layoff notices for several full-time teachers for the 2012-13 school year. The teachers union, angry about the layoffs, filed a complaint with the Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC), because Duffy is not a certified teacher in Oregon.

The commission reacted by ordering Superintendent Jeff Davis to “immediately cancel” the band because, as Backwoods Home Magazine put it, the union “simply could not allow an unpaid volunteer, no matter how good, to fill a position that their contract said was worth about $80,000 a year in compensation.”

The union was also concerned that a precedent might be set if Duffy was allowed to continue, especially considering the recent opening of a new charter school in nearby Reedsport.

The new charter school allows half of its teachers to be “volunteers” or lower paid staffers drawn from the community, as long as they know their subject well and can teach it to kids.

That was the last thing the union wanted to see in Gold Beach. So they managed to get Duffy dumped and leave the band students without a leader or a program.

Superintendent Davis tried to save the band. When the TSPC ordered the band off campus, he listed himself as the teacher in charge of the band. Unfortunately the ploy did not work.

“It’s unfortunate the way this has turned out. Every decision I made, was made to benefit the kids. I wish we could have talked (with the teachers union) about it and figured out a way to make it work,” Davis was quoted as saying by the Curry Coastal Pilot.

“It was a matter of revenge for the teachers union, not against the band or its director, but against the school superintendent who had presided over teacher layoffs forced by the economic downturn in recent years,” said Dave Duffy, the director’s husband who also publishes Backwoods Home Magazine.

Defeating the bully


The students and citizens of Gold Beach did not accept the ugly verdict forced on them by the union.

Band students utilized social media sites to condemn the union for its actions. They also rebelled, staging a sit-in on the steps of the band room on the first day they were supposed to report to a study hall, according to Backwoods Home Magazine.

The high school golf club showed its support by donating $1,000, nearly half of its funds, to the band.

Dave and Lenie Duffy decided to clear some space in the Backwoods Home Magazine office for a new  band room. Lenie Duffy decided to stay on as director, and the band was active again as an off-campus club by March of this year.

Together the kids and the community “defeated the bully in the school yard,” as Dave Duffy put it.

Students and parents are appreciative of the Duffy’s help, according to the Curry Coastal Pilot. Band parent David Hanna said “it’s great that the (students) can have a place to have their band. It’s amazing that there is a business in town that is giving up the space to allow them to have their club. Who else in town would have done that?”

If the teachers union thinks that eliminating volunteers from schools will help secure union jobs, their experience with the Gold Beach High School band should make them think differently.

Even though the students will not receive the half credit they would have earned if the band was still school sanctioned, they are still enjoying and learning from the experience.

They continue to play their music, do not have to pay for membership, and are allowed to use existing school instruments.

The band marches on, thanks to a community that refused to let it die.

The band plays on at Gold Beach High School, despite the effort of the teachers union to stop the music – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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