I just returned from the annual Madison Strings Festival with a warm feeling in my heart. It wasn�t the warmth of joy, however, despite the lasting echoes of 1,000 children playing music. It was the embers of rage beginning to kindle. For the fourth time, the Strings Festival was tainted by rumblings of anger, shock, and outrage at Art Rainwater�s ongoing assault on Madison values. For the fourth time, the elementary strings program in the Madison schools is targeted for demolition.
Madison has spoken clearly about its commitment to the arts. (We have a $200 million gift downtown to prove it.) Madison has spoken clearly about its commitment to fact-based decision-making. Students who play an instrument care more about school, perform better in school, and are better equipped to achieve their life goals. More than 67% of students participate in strings (and the numbers would be higher but for a handful of anti-strings principals.) Minority and low-income children participate in percentages higher than their representation in the district. Private lessons are expensive (current market rate – $1500/year). At a cost of $285 per student, elementary strings is likely the most cost-effective minority achievement program in the district.
Madison has spoken clearly and unrelentingly about its commitment to arts in our schools and the Strings program in particular. Why does the superintendent persist in putting this extremely popular $500,000 budget item on the chopping block, while never considering a cut to the $500,000 pay increase for his administration? Madison values our low student to teacher ratios (10-to-1). But as a taxpayer, I can�t support an administrator-to-child ratio that is 20% higher than the state average. Madison does NOT value an administration so bloated, it includes a full-time “Chief of Staff� for the superintendent.
Madison schools need to reflect Madison values. We spend more than $12,000 per student. Are we really relegated to reading, �riting and �rithmetic? As Mr. Rainwater stated publicly a few years back, he came from a small town in Arkansas that didn�t have a well-developed arts program in his schools, �And look at me!� Mr. Rainwater, I am looking at you. And I�m more than disappointed.
Maureen Rickman, Ph.D.
Letter in The Capital Times on Thursday, April 7, 2005