Stillwater Music Teachers Ask Board to Save Elementary School Programs
“If there must be cuts," Music Department Chairman Erik Christiansen said, "it is the music department’s professional staff’s recommendation that the roots of the three programs be left alone, with the trimming occurring at the top.”
It’s hard to imagine, but Stillwater Area High School’s storied music department is on the chopping block if an operating levy is not renewed this November.
District 834’s music teachers on Thursday night told the School Board they disagree with the cost center’s suggestion to cut elementary school music programs, if a levy is not renewed — offering up the elimination of the 10-12 grade music programs instead.
The Elementary School Cost Center's recommendation to the Board is to cut fifth- and sixth-grade instrumental music programs to save $300,000.
That measure would result in the loss of 5 FTE employees and impact more than 1,000 students, Stillwater Area High School Band Director Dennis Lindsay said. The elimination of the high school music programs would result in the loss of 3.9 FTE employees, impact 600 students and meet the $300,000 demand.
“The elementary cost center’s suggestion appears disingenuous and may lack the integrity that the Stillwater community expects from its schools and from its School Board,” Stillwater Area High School Orchestra Director Jerry Jones said. “This elimination looks as though it is only effecting the fifth and sixth grade, where in fact it would eliminate the entire program in time.”
Even if the instrumental music were to begin in seventh grade, Jones said, the loss of those crucial years would relegate the high school program to the level of a quality junior high program.
“The suggestion to eliminate the high school program is more appropriate and more honest to the situation at hand,” Jones said.
Eliminating the high school programs — and keeping the elementary and junior high intact — allows for the possibility that the entire program will eventually heal, Jones said.
“This suggestion is not only honest, but hopeful. It gives the district the potential to provide the largest number of students with the greatest opportunity for personal learning and passion-building,” Jones said. “It also provides a sliver of that community involvement, so crucial and for which our music programs have become so famous.
“Following the elementary cost center suggestion does none of the above,” he continued. “It merely guts a part of our district’s heart and soul.”
Music Department Chairman Erik Christiansen agreed and told the Board if they cut any more funding from the music department there will be a general decline.
“Hard times are the worst times for institutions to cut what they do well — for 834 that means music,” Christiansen said. “If there must be cuts, it is the music department’s professional staff’s recommendation that the roots of the three programs — band, orchestra and choir — be left alone, with the trimming occurring at the top.”
“You need to know how extremely difficult it is for those of us who bear our heart and soul for these programs to make this recommendation to you tonight,” Lindsay said.
“We don’t do it lightly, and we don’t do it for political reasons. We do it because — taking our personal emotions aside — it allows us to reach the most kids with the least effect on the long-term health of the music program.”
The School Board will look into the music department’s proposal further during an all-day work session on Saturday, March 2 at the District Service Center.