ROARING SPRING - With a grim mood hanging over the Spring Cove Middle School auditorium Monday, school board members voted to cut two teaching positions and raise taxes as part of a $22.5 million budget for the coming year.
The budget - the culmination of weeks of debate and a sometimes angry public response - curtails music and physical education programs in an effort to reduce a growing $1 million deficit.
Hoping to tighten finances as retirement costs rise, the board furloughed Kevin Schneider, a health and gym teacher, and Dustin Rainey, who teaches music and supervises the Spring Cove marching band.
Students in red band shirts sobbed as the meeting broke up; some embraced each other as parents confronted board members.
"We fought a good fight," one student told a friend. Before the meeting, some band members predicted that Rainey's dismissal would effectively signal the group's end.
The votes to pass the budget, cut the programs and raise taxes by 2 mills followed an hourlong closed-doors session - the board's
last effort to iron out savings after weeks of frequent private meetings.
Their efforts resulted in two furloughs rather than the widely expected three, and a smaller-than-expected tax hike for the district's capital reserve fund. But board members and administrators showed little satisfaction with the outcome.
"There's nothing good about any of it," Superintendent Robert Vadella said after the two 6-2 votes.
President Jeff Brennecke said that, of the three budgets he's dealt with, this year's was by far the most drawn-out and contentious.
"The district's like a business. And the costs keep going up," Brennecke said. "[The board] tried. They looked at every possible way."
After the meeting, several parents and a knot of band members pushed toward the dais to question Vadella as a security guard watched nearby.
With Rainey's side contract as band director set to expire and the Martinsburg Ag Parade fast approaching, some wondered aloud whether they'd be able to participate in the decades-old Morrisons Cove tradition.
During and after the meeting, board members stressed that they weren't cutting the band; only some music classes and smaller in-school bands would see cuts. Rainey is still welcome to work after-hours as band director, they noted.
While the band cuts and a planned one-laptop-per-student program drew the most public ire Monday, at least one board member disputed the need for tax hikes and employee pay raises. Willard Thompson, one of two "no" votes on each motion, suggested that even the smaller-than-expected 2-mill increase was too much to bear.
But for students like Katherine Orczeck, who addressed the board Monday, program cuts represented the worst of the budget.