November 24 — 1:37 pm, 2010

Preserving instrumental music programs

To the editors:

The District has been investigating proposals that would change the way schools receive District funding as part of its work on "weighted student funding." As a public school parent whose children have benefited from music in schools, I am concerned that changes to the instrumental music program, shifting some funding decisions from the central office to individual schools, would damage the program irreparably.

The Weighted Student Funding Planning Committee recently voted to maintain centralized funding for the program, but the decision is not final and could still be overridden.

The instrumental music program remains a highlight of the District’s educational offerings, despite past budget cuts. The program provides interested students with weekly instrumental instruction, starting in the 3rd grade. The program also supports school bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, and other groups. Most students are provided with school-owned instruments.

At present, instrumental music instruction is offered at 189 schools, mostly by 76 "itinerant" teachers who serve several schools every week.

The current funding formula has been criticized as inequitable because teachers are not allocated in equal numbers to the different schools, and many schools do not have instrumental music programs at all. But removing funding from the central office and allowing the schools to use it as they choose could destroy the program.

Decentralized funding formulas would take music funding away from schools that have built successful programs while not giving enough to other schools to establish new ones.

Without dedicated funding, instrumental music could well go the way of school libraries – it could disappear at many schools.

The success of the program requires a critical mass of teachers in order to maintain a critical mass of students. Unless kids start playing in elementary and middle school, there will be no supply of students experienced enough to play in high school orchestras and bands.

Turning over budget and teacher allocation responsibilities to individual principals could jeopardize the success of the entire instrumental music program. Centralized funding and administration must be preserved.

Peter Schneider

The writer is a public interest lawyer and parent of a 10th grader at Masterman and a Central graduate. A longer version of this letter appeared as a guest blog post.

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