TIM L. WALTNER - CONTRIBUTOR
The Freeman Public School Board accepted the resignation of junior-senior high school music instructor Mindee Birnstiehl at its regular monthly meeting Monday, May 13. Superintendent Kevin Kunz said Birnstiehl had notified him of her resignation three weeks earlier — on April 23, the day signed contracts were due.
What followed Monday night was a discussion about whether the position should be filled or if the district’s music program should be consolidated to two teachers. The board ultimately voted to advertise for a replacement for Birnstiehl, but that was not in line with a recommendation from Kunz.
In addition to Birnstiehl, the music staff at Freeman Public includes Sheila Wipf, who heads the junior-senior high instrumental program; and Sonja Waltner, who teaches both vocal and instrumental music at the elementary school. Waltner also teaches elementary computer; her post is a 9/10 position, with 55% music and 35% computer.
Following Kunz’s recommendation that the board reduce the music staff to two, board members appeared surprised. The board rejected a similar recommendation in December of 2017.
“Are we taking about not hiring a music teacher?” asked board member Kyle Weier. “I thought we had this conversation.”
“Why are we having this discussion?” asked board member Laverne Diede.
Kunz said he was under the impression that combining the music staff would be considered if there was a vacancy, which is why he brought the issue to the board.
The board recalled the community support for maintaining the three-teacher structure.
“When we had all these people come out and say we need three music teachers, that’s who we are, that was my clear messasge,” said board member Mark Miller.
“I would definitely be in favor of a third music teacher,” Weier said.
“I definitely think we need three music teachers,” Diede said.
“There is a reason that Freeman Public has enjoyed a good reputation in the music department for all these years,” said Sonja Waltner. “Other than having talented students, the reason for this is that we’ve had three music teachers.”
That allows offering lessons at both the junior and senior high level, she noted.
“If a music teacher were to be K-12, which is the case in some schools, it is a very big job,” Waltner said. “I don’t think you can expect the same amount of success you have enjoyed if you want to go down to two. A music teacher in that position is spread very thin.”
Waltner said she’d prefer to stay with the elementary program.
Sheila Wipf echoed Waltner’s sentiments.
“My days are very full,” she said. “To consider adding fifth and sixth grade band, plus whatever lessons she’s teaching now; I’m not sure. Music theory would have to go by the wayside. It’s certainly not ideal. I know other schools do it, but I think that’s what we have going for us here.”
Kunz said he wanted to discuss “a couple of qualification issues” in closed session that could be considerations in looking at staffing the music department.
The board’s action to advertise for a replacement for Birnstiehl followed that closed session.
Kunz resigns as coach
Also following the closed session, the board unanimously accepted the resignation of Kunz as both head boys basketball and junior high boys basketball coach. Kunz led the Flyers to a surprisingly strong season in his first year as Freeman’s coach in 2018-19.
Kunz told the Courier he submitted his resignation because he is aware of the opinion that those in administrative leadership positions should not be coaches. He said he wanted to eliminate that ongoing debate by simply stepping down.
Watch for more from the May 13 meeting in next week’s Courier.