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Music teacher’s retirement strikes sour note at Iroquois

A popular music teacher’s coming retirement from Iroquois High School has supporters of the music program shaken, fearing that his position could remain unfilled.

William Staebell, who conducts five orchestras and teaches more than 100 students in the middle and high schools, plans to retire June 30 after teaching in the district for more than 30 years.

Parents, students and alumni lined up at a recent School Board meeting to praise Staebell for his leadership and ability to coax the utmost musical talent out of his students.

And those who spoke urged the School Board to find a replacement and keep funding the program at its current level. Some are concerned that may not happen.

“I asked if this position is guaranteed to be filled and he said no, because they do an analysis every time a retirement opens up, and they take a look at needs and the numbers,” said Julie Aroune, president of the Iroquois music boosters, said about a recent conversation she had with Superintendent Douglas Scofield. “We want to make sure this is not going to be an issue.”

Scofield said that the district hasn’t made a decision on how to fill Staebell’s position, adding that teaching positions in the music program are determined by the number of participants.

Scofield also pointed out that when the district makes budget decisions, every subject, sport and extracurricular activity is examined.

“We don’t have any answers because we’re looking to get the data and the board hasn’t been presented with anything yet,” Scofield said. “We’re not looking only at music; we’re looking at every subject, activity, club.”

Many spoke of Staebell’s legacy as one who brought a passion to music and promoted goodwill within the community through district performances at area nursing homes and community events.

Jane Cass said the music program at Iroquois was a major reason why her family settled in the district.

“Music contributes to the fabric and the culture of the school,” Cass said. “You cannot skimp on this position.”

Grace Aroune, Julie’s daughter, credited Staebell for her chance to pursue a bachelor of arts degree in drama at Hofstra University.

“Without the attention from these teachers and the quality, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Aroune said. “I left here with so many life and music skills.”

Gary Cunningham, a parent, urged the board to find the most qualified candidate, noting that music is something that can be appreciated by its participants for decades.

“Sports gave me two concussions, bad knees and a shoulder that doesn’t work,” Cunningham said. “Music gave me an appreciation that I’ve carried through my life. I still actively sing. That can’t be taken away.”

Scofield said the board’s first budget workshop, scheduled for Feb. 2, will include discussion on the cost to keep everything currently offered at Iroquois.

“Any time we go into budget season, we look at all positions … to see if there’s anything we can do to be more efficient,” Scofield said. “If there’s a need, it’s what best for students and we have the funds and it’s all balanced, then we can continue the way it is.”

Board President Charles Specht said he takes pride in the programs offered at Iroquois that make “well-rounded” students, and also heaped praise on Staebell.

“Someone of Mr. Staebell’s quality is tough to replace,” Specht said, adding the board remains committed to making decisions in the best interest of district students.