String ’em up – Strings Hits the Isthmus

In an article by Vikki Kratz in the Isthmus, published on May 7, 2004, the author wonders if the MMSD is tone deaf.
“Bill Keys, president of the Madison Board of Education, recently asked for a budget analysis of the popular 4th and 5th grade strings program. … The move by Keys was the last straw for Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, who says he can no longer work in the district’s anti-arts atmosphere. ”
The analsysis that exasperated the District’s Fine Arts Coordinator was not prepared by him, but by District business professionals, unfamiliar with the academic curriculum. The analysis stated that a fee to cover the costs of the program would need to be nearly $500 per academic year.
The elementary strings program costs 1/4 what the District spends on extracurricular sports ($2 million per year) but a possible fee would be more than 5 times higher than what is currently paid for by any participant in a MMSD extracurricular sport this school year.
Examining the costs of all the District’s programs and services ought to be part of a robust budget process – targeting one program seems purposeful and biased. This approach runs the risk of losing rather than building the community’s confidence in its School Board.
The complete article and reference material is included below and can also be read at:

String ’em up
The Madison Board of Education considers cutting the strings program–again
Bill Keys, president of the Madison Board of Education, recently asked for a budget analysis of the popular 4th and 5th grade strings program. The board will begin recommending cuts to the school district’s $300 million budget to address a $10 million shortfall. The move by Keys was the last straw for Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, who says he can no longer work in the district’s anti-arts atmosphere. What follows is an Isthmus article, the analysis of the strings program, and an e-mail from Neuenfeldt announcing his resignation. Some of the documents have been scanned in, resulting in minor formatting changes.
Isthmus article by Vikki Kratz, 5/7/04
Analysis of the strings program
Rick Neuenfeldt’s e-mail
1. Isthmus article by Vikki Kratz, 5/7/04
Is MMSD tone deaf?
Despite Supt. Art Rainwater’s promise a few months ago that the Madison school district’s popular fourth- and fifth- grade strings program would not be recommended for a cut this year, School Board President Bill Keys is putting it back on the table. Last month Keys asked the district for an analysis of the program, which costs about $500,000 a year.
“It doesn’t mean I want to eliminate strings,” says Keys. “I just said, let’s talk about it. We ought not to be afraid to look at anything.”
But advocates say the board should analyze all of the district’s programs when looking for cuts to address this year’s $10 million shortfall, not merely target strings.
“These things are important to kids. They want the arts,” says Barb Schrank, a parent who organized a pro-strings rally at Monday’s board meeting. “We have a very anti-arts administration.”
Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, agrees. He’s resigning his post, saying he feels shut out by Rainwater and the board.
“The report the board received about the strings program was not a report I generated or had any say about,” he says, adding that the analysis came from the district’s business office and he hasn’t even received a copy of it yet.
Joe Quick, a district spokesman, won’t comment on the report, saying only, “There was no recommendation from the district to do anything about strings.” Of Neuenfeldt’s resignation, Quick says, “We’re always disappointed when we lose staff.”
Neuenfeldt will leave in June. “I have to feel like I’m involved in the discussion about how important the arts are,” he says. “I’m a bit mystified about why this is coming back on the list of cuts. There are some kids for whom arts is every bit as important as reading or math.”
[End of document]
2. Analysis of the strings program
BOE Member Name(s): Bill Keys
Date Submitted to MMSD Administration: 3/17/04
BOE Question: Examine the costs of 4th & 5th grade strings.
Analysis Item: #4 – Keys – 4th grade strings.doc
This Section to be Completed by MMSD Administration
Date of MMSD Administrative Analysis & Response: 4/21/04 Administrator(s) Submitting Analysis & Response: K Kucharz BOE Members & MMSD Staff this Report was Copied To: R Price
MMSD Administrative Analysis & Response
Department: Elementary Schools
Division: Elementary Schools
Background: According to the Wisconsin Administrative Code, the recommended music allocation of time per-week for a six-hour school day is 75 minutes. Music instruction does not have to be delivered by a certified music teacher; however, it must be given under the direction of a certified music teacher. Many larger districts have a central music teacher to provide consultation to classroom teachers who integrate music instruction into the school day.
MMSD currently provides 60 minutes a week for general music and an additional 90 minutes for those children electing to participate in Strings, totaling 150 minutes for some children. This instruction is provided directly by a certified music teacher. There is no question that the quality of music experience in the MMSD is excellent for our students. When assessing the Strings program, it is important to keep in mind that:
1 .) The combination of general music and Strings for grades 4 & 5 is above the DPI recommended levels. 2.) A reduction of approximately $547,762 for 4th & 5th grade Strings represents 5.5% of the $9,910,018 2004-05 deficit. 3.) The mandated high-stakes expectations for the achievement of 4th & 5th grade students is less effective under the current arrangement of pull-out Strings. Academic instruction (reinforcement, enrichment, extension of curriculum) for non-Strings students still occurs during the time for Strings, but not all students are present for this instruction.
There are 979 fourth-grade students currently enrolled in District Strings programs, representing 63.4% of the total 4th grade enrollment. There are 613 fifth-grade students currently enrolled in District Strings programs, representing 37.5% of the total 5th grade enrollment. Attachment 1 shows the following demographic patterns for the 4th and 5th grade students currently enrolled in Strings. The greatest Strings participation rate occurs in 4th & 5th grades and steadily decreases as students get older.
Although teachers can see the value of Strings, classroom teachers have become increasingly concerned about missed academic time for students. In recent years, a principal work group looked at scheduling issues and determined there are no alternative ways to schedule Strings classes so they do not interfere with academic offerings.
Grade 4 5.84* $336,874*
Grade 5 3.66 $210.888
Total FTEs = 9.5 $547,762
* FTE and salary distribution was based on the ratio of each grades’ Strings enrollment as a percentage of the total 4/5 Strings enrollment.
Revenues: A fee to cover the cost would amount to $493.50 per student.
FTE: 9.5
Anticipated Savings: $547,762 savings
Student Impact: There has been no study to indicate whether or not the Strings program has made any gains in the achievement gap. However, in 4th & 5th grade Strings, 37.2% of students are of color and 62.8% of students are white; 30.3% of the students are low income and 69.7% of students are not low income.
As a comparison, in 01-02, 52% of students were Of color and 68% of students were white; and 24% of the students were low income, and 76% were not low income.
Strategic Priorities: Instructional Excellence: The acquisition of learning to play an instrument will be diminished with the loss of this opportunity; however, the gain of instructional time and the value of less class disruption will be an asset to the classroom.
Fiscal Responsibility: There will be financial savings, and students will still have an opportunity to learn an instrument in middle school.
Board Priorities:
Effectiveness: Teachers will have more time on task with their students.
Redundancies or Availability of the Service Elsewhere: All students K-5 have 60 minutes of music per week. The Strings program is a redundancy of the state-mandated music program. For an equivalent amount of music instruction time, students can receive private lessons from Ward-Brodt for $150 per month or $1,500 per academic year.
Service Delivery: Service delivery would change. All students will be given one hour per week of music lessons, resulting in a reduction for those already enrolled in the Strings program.
CBA Impact:
[End of document]
3. Rick Neuenfeldt’s e-mail
It is with a great deal of regret that I must inform you all that I will not be returning to the position of MMSD Coordinator of Fine Arts next year. This decision comes after a long period of soul-searching which actually began early this school year, and resulted in my coming to the conclusion that I am not the person to help you through the difficult years to come in this school district. Please believe me when I tell you that if this position was more like I had envisioned it to be, I would instead be looking forward to staying in it long enough to retire from the profession. You are without a doubt the FINEST group of educators it has been my honor and pleasure to know and work with, but that work has not turned out to be what I thought it would be. I have always tried throughout my career to be a builder, but in order to build, one needs to feel like their opinion is valued and they can operate in an atmosphere of support and confidence. I feel that I was in that type of environment in your classrooms, at your concerts, in our meetings and in those meetings with the local arts organizations. I also feel that it is just not the reality for me here at Doyle, and Doyle is where I work.
I am just not a strong enough person to persevere in spite of this, and I have finally accepted that.
No matter where I end up going from here, I will never forget the group of dedicated educators I was honored to work with in Madison, Wisconsin.
My very best wishes to you all.
[End of document]
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