Saturday, December 31, 2011

Budget time matters for music advocates

It's BUDGET time!  
Why do we need to pay attention to the budget process?  
Many times, the arts are the first items targeted for reduction when a school system is trying to balance the budget. 

What if we haven't heard anything mentioned about arts cuts?
Even when school districts are not actively cutting arts teachers and programs, there are still budget decisions being made that affect music programs. For instance, if an arts teacher retires, the principal might choose not to fill that position and instead give a heavier class load to the remaining arts teachers. These kinds of "passive" cuts still have a big impact on the way our students are educated.

That doesn't sound so bad, right?  It's not as if music classes aren't still being offered.
The problem with this is that those remaining teachers now have a course load that is overwhelming.  They have the desire to give personalized instruction to our kids, but their ability to do so is severely limited because they now have to prepare for a much bigger course load.  One of the ways that teachers have traditionally provided more individualized instruction is through section rehearsals.  These are usually pull-out group lessons that occur on a rotating basis.  Sectionals are important because they allow the teachers to work with specific groups of students based on ability or instrument.  Now that some of our teachers have a much bigger course load, they no longer have the ability to teach sectionals.  So  . . . the same courses are offered, but the actual instruction given to our kids is not the same.  

How can we help?
1. Follow along with the budget process in your school district.

2.Take the time to attend a board of education meeting and/or work session.  Listen for any mention of the arts, music, or instructional positions.  Speak positively about the value of the arts at any opportunity.

3. Gather a concerned group of parents at your home school.  Meet with your music teacher and learn about how scheduling and staffing decisions are made at that school.  Does your music teacher need you to speak up on some issue?

4. Meet with your school administrators and respectfully let them know that there is strong community support for music.  Let them know that you appreciate the difficult job they have, especially in tough economic times like these; but be clear that music is an essential part of the curriculum.  Let them know that music courses should be scheduled in such a way that students have maximum access to them and that appropriate staffing should be allocated to give our kids the best possible music education.  

5. Encourage your kids (and friends) to stick with music.  Students often come home with the news that "music doesn't fit in my schedule."  Understand that if the school community makes the effort to schedule music in a positive way, it will fit in most students' schedules.  If the community doesn't communicate that this is a value to them, then the school may not make the extra effort to create a schedule that works.  Understand that when students drop out of music classes, this actually puts the teacher's job in jeopardy.  (This doesn't mean everyone should take music whether they like it or not . . . rather it means that all students who want to take music should have a legitimate way to make it fit into their schedules.)