Word has it that our school district’s administration is planning to propose cuts in elementary school band and orchestra programs—possibly eliminating them entirely, which would mean that kids wouldn’t start instruments until junior high. Some band or orchestra teachers were told that if they had other job offers, they should take them. Building administrators were reportedly told not to talk about the possible cuts. The issue may appear on the agenda of the April 8 school board meeting.
There are different theories about what would be prompting any cuts. Some think it’s because the legislature is (as usual) dawdling about setting the allowable growth rate. But as I understand it (and I almost certainly don’t), the allowable growth rate for next academic year has already been set—it’s the rate for fiscal year 2016 that’s still unresolved—so it’s not clear how that would drive any cuts in next year’s staffing. Others I spoke to thought it was because of the district’s $3.6 million budget shortfall. Others suggested that the district was concerned about kids being pulled out of class for their instrument lessons (oh, the instructional minutes!), or about the buildings being too crowded to have adequate space for the lessons.
My first thought was that this sounds like the Washington Monument syndrome—that any proposal would be a ploy either (1) to get people to make a stink to their legislators about allowable growth or (2) to get grudging acceptance of some other cut that the administration is actually after. Yet budget and allowable growth dramas are a regular occurrence, and this is the first time I’ve heard any talk of cuts like these. I’ve emailed the superintendent to ask about the issue.
For what it’s worth, I consider my kids’ orchestra lessons to have been one of the most valuable parts of their elementary school experience—and certainly a far better use of their time than the behavior assemblies and the countless hours of standardized testing. And will the district really cut orchestra and band while using class time for things like the “employability” training described here?