Ithaca, N.Y. — Steve Cass left Oswego High School in 2012 to work as the Audio and Visual Media Engineer at Ithaca High School.
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“He inspired me to pursue a career in television,” says Jonah Restuccio, a former student of Cass in Oswego, “after he left, everything just seemed to stop.”
Now, IHS students may have to deal with the same loss if the Board of Education follows through with its plan to terminate the AV Media Engineer position.
“I have to look other places,” says Cass, who majored in technology education and received his master’s degree in vocational teacher preparation from SUNY Oswego. “I love what I do, I love working with students, and I’d love to stay, but it’s hard to take a $28,000 pay cut.”
The following story was broken up into five sections: Click the part you’re interested in to read more.
1 – ICSD faces budget shortfall
In the fall of 2013, Cass became a full-time television production teacher at IHS and also continued to work as the part-time AV Media Engineer, a position the board now plans to eliminate.
For the past two years, Cass has held both jobs, enabling him to arrange college credit for the course, collaborate with community organizations, and work with students outside of school hours.
In recent years, the Ithaca City School District’s costs have consistently outpaced revenue, leading to cuts like this one. In the last two school years alone, the district has run a deficit of more than $8.5 million.
2 – Community, superintendent respond
The board’s decision to cut the AV Media Engineer position, which came to light a little over a month ago, has attracted an impassioned response from the community.
A petition in favor of keeping both positions was circulated by senior Cameron Burbank and, in four days, was signed by 23 parents, a handful of faculty, and over 120 former and current IHS students.
Emails requesting comment from board members—first sent on May 22—have not been answered.
“This is one position and one program,” says Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District, Dr. Luvelle Brown. “I’m thinking about dozens of others. People need to be mindful of that because all of these are very difficult decisions that are impacting young people.”
3 – What does AV Media Engineer do?
Currently, the AV Media Engineer is responsible for acquiring and maintaining equipment. Next year, the school will outsource technology maintenance to the Central NY Regional Information Center, which is run by BOCES, a move Cass says will increase the waiting period for repairs and reduce student interaction.
In his time at IHS, Cass has also started streaming events—such as graduation—live on the school’s website. Karen Seifert, a mathematics teacher at the high school, notes that “Many of these functions represent milestones in the lives of students,” and that, by broadcasting the events online, Cass has helped “to alleviate some of the obstacles that are associated with being economically disadvantaged.”
While Dr. Brown says he does not discuss specific personnel, he acknowledges that “the [digital media] program has accomplished things that we couldn’t even imagine.”
Some of these accomplishments will extend beyond the high school. Next year, five IHS students plan to attend the Roy H. Park School of Communications at IC, and twelve students will be pursuing digital media in college, a number Cass says “is just unheard of after only the second year.”
4 — Students, IC faculty express support for Cass
Cristina Bevia is a senior at IHS and will be attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall. “Without Mr. Cass’ direction and resources, my opportunities would have been scarce when applying to such an esteemed institution,” says Bevia, who worked with Cass as part of an independent study.
The two met weekly, one-on-one, discussing how to write, edit, and direct films for her portfolio. “He helped me achieve my dream of attending NYU, which I’ve had since I was 10 years old, and he can help others do this as well.”
Students are not the only ones who want to see Cass stay. Some Ithaca College faculty have also been outspoken critics of the board’s decision.
“The move is very short-sighted of Dr. Brown,” says Dr. Steve Gordon, who teaches television and radio at IC. “If students and student learning are his priority, he is not demonstrating it here.”
Another television and radio professor at IC, Dr. Jack Powers, is also the father of two IHS students. He wrote the following via email:
“As someone involved in multiple searches for production faculty at Ithaca College, I can attest to just how rare a find Mr. Cass is. If the AV Media Engineer position is eliminated as planned, then the powers-that-be—despite significant student and public dissent—will have played a complicit role in forcing the leader of the digital media production program out the door.”
5 — What Cass thinks
Cass says what concerns him most is the potential loss of student access; he worries that “students won’t be able to work in the studio after school, or in the morning, or on weekends.”
When I spoke with Cass, we sat on stools at the desk of the refurbished studio, which he praises as one of only a handful of comparable high school studios in upstate New York. We sat surrounded by bright green walls and three high-tech cameras that were trained on us, but were shut off.
While keeping an eye on the students working in his classroom next door, Cass said, “I have to look out for myself, which I hate doing. Seeing the possibility of this going away is heartbreaking after all the time and effort spent to get it built.”