B Sharp Not Flat

In an effort to find funding for custodians and maintenance work, a Madison Board member proposed an unprecedented $460 fee for elementary strings, which is an academic curriculum subject in the Madison School District. No other fee, not even for extracurricular sports is as high.
He noted as part of his explanation for the fee that he starts high in a negotiation so as not to bargain away his position. Other Board member recommendations for changes to the MMSD 04-05 budget tried to minimize the impact on children’s instruction and opportunity to participate in activities beneficial to their education.
If the MMSD School Board wants the City of Madison’s support, I hope they take better care than to make extreme recommendations on a targeted group of students. The following Letter to the Editor, which has been sent in to the papers but not yet published asks for fairness and responsible decisionmaking when it comes to all academic curriculum.

Letter to the Editor:
This month the MMSD School Board will vote on a proposal by President Bill Keys to charge 4th and 5th grade strings players $460 to pay for custodians in the schools. I hope the Board rejects his unfair proposal that would ask 1,600 nine- and 10-year olds to pay for custodians and maintenance when these are services that benefit all children. Also, I hope the Board rejects any other 12th hour proposal to cut this or any other curriculum and instead follows suggestions made at various times by Board members Carstensen, Robarts, Winston and Vang to bring the community together to secure arts education and extracurricular activities for our children in our schools.
The children of Madison�s public schools understand the value of elementary strings education to them, and they are courageous in speaking about their beliefs to the Board. On Monday, May 3rd, nine- and ten-year old children came with their parents in tow to the Madison Board of Education meeting to demonstrate once again their support of a curriculum they dearly value. They came because they wanted to let the Board know what the community thinks as well as how important and beneficial this ACADEMIC curriculum is to their education. They also wanted to know why the Board had done what appears to be nothing over the past two years to seriously explore options �outside the box� to secure this valued curriculum.
The children, their parents and the community already told Mr. Keys, other School Board members and the Superintendent two years ago how important the Grades 4-12 instrumental curriculum was to their education. Board members saw the research that demonstrates the positive academic benefits of instrumental music on a child�s non-music education. High school students told Board members how they needed this curriculum so that they could play well enough to qualify for college scholarships and to stand out on their college applications. Losing two years of study through the elimination of the elementary strings program would put them that much further behind their peers from other schools. In addition to sports, music on a college application is looked upon very favorably by college admissions offices.
The MMSD elementary strings program is run efficiently but somehow this critical background and financial information was not included in the budget analysis done for Mr. Keys. Each string teacher teaches about 200 elementary school children per week at a cost of about $285 per child per year. For comparison, top administrator contracts cost the District $600 per student and extracurricular sports can cost the District anywhere from $200 to more than $1600 per student per year.
Over the past decade, while elementary school enrollment has declined, elementary strings enrollment increased 21 percent. Nearly 30 percent of the students participating in strings are low-income and minority students (more than 500 children) and more than 10 percent (160 children) are special education children. Through instrument rental fees the District has built up an impressive collection of string instruments and is able to provide more than 400 instrument grants per year to low-income children at NO COST to the District.
The District�s budget analysis of the elementary strings program pointed out that a $460 annual fee would cover the costs of the program for all students plus the low-income students who would be waived a fee. No other District activity, including athletics, has fees that cover the entire cost of that activity � a point not included in the analysis. The fee students paid this year for extracurricular high school sports will cover only 8% of what the District identifies as its extracurricular sports budget this year. A comparable fee for elementary strings would be $33 per student per year � not $460.
Madison values the arts. Forbes magazine identified Madison WI as one of the best places to do business in part because people want “…just to stay in Madison, drawn in part by year-round lakefront recreation, endless bike paths and a hyperactive schedule of performing arts [emphasis added].” (�Miracle in the Midwest,� by Mark Tatge, 05.24.04 Forbes Magazine [Real Video]).
Madison�s public schools need to reflect Madison�s values if the community is to continue its strong support of public education. The City is developing and implementing its vision for the arts, the UW has its vision for the arts. Madison�s public school children are the city�s future artists. They are the city�s future audiences. It�s time for the MMSD to reflect Madison values, and the arts are central to what our City values, beginning with our young children�s elementary string education.
Barb Schrank, Ph.D.