Carol Carstensen Says I’m Angry and Threatens Elementary Strings: Raises Confidence and Governance Issues for Me

Carol Carstensen told me last night that I’ve been “angry” over elementary strings for the past four years. I learned many years ago never to “tell” people what they are feeling – 90% of the time you’re wrong, and in this case Ms. Carstensen is dead wrong about me.
Her comment to me came after I asked her why the board would agree to a recommendation that puts the ENTIRE elementary strings program at risk if a referendum does not pass yet the board did not ask nor would it even consider a) reducing the administrative budget (increased $1.5 million over two years even with cut of 2 positions), b) reducing any of the services to high school children for extracurricular sports ($2 million budget) – which makes sense. They are paying 20% of the cost of the program, and, so are the elementary strings children. Plus, the board has an athletics committee – not a fine arts committee. Something wrong with this picture? Yes, very much so, and it’s resulting in discrimination against underprivileged children who study instrumental music.

Elementary strings is not about me being angry – once again, Ms. Carstensen misses the point. This program is about 1800+ children all of whom are at the mercy of the referendum (more than 600 who are minority and more than 400 who are low income) – no other curriculum or course is put at such a risk nor affect as many children as this cut would. As a matter of fact, Ms. Carstensen, Mr. Clingan, Mr. Keys and Mr. Lopez took the budget cut document (not even a budget) and said – yep, this it, we can’t do anything. It’s a referendum, or you’re done. They did this before even getting the budget.
Even though I have been one of the more visible advocates for strings, I am not the only person caring and asking questions about elementary strings. There have been hundreds of children, their parents and the community who have also been asking: why hasn’t the administration and board come up with ways in which to make the program work and meet the curriculum standards and understand the performance results in other curricula that the fine arts contribute so significantly to?
On Monday, Mr. Rainwater said he has tried EVERYTHING and can’t come up with anything, but what he is really saying is they won’t come up with anything that he was not willing to involve teachers, principals, parents and the community to help us.
This is one more example of the “closed shop” our current School Board has become. The only way to change this is to change the board with new energy, new ideas and an openness to work meaningfully with the community – not to lecture the community about how right you are and how wrong I am – it’s about kids’ learning and achievement. We will need to do this to build public confidence in the board’s ability to govern before referendums will pass. I’m afraid that is not there at the moment.
Maybe it was Ms. Carstensen who was mad when I also informed her that I had hoped to be able to vote for her, but based upon her under-management of the budget, recent decisions and her comments at the forum – we’ve done everything and if the referendum fails, maybe we can cobble something together for “those kids” at MSCR, that I would no longer be able to support her as a candidate for the MMSD School Board. I was sad about not being able to support her candidacy, not angry. But before I accused her of being angry, I would ask her.
We need a change – fresh, good old practical, progressive ideas. Referedums need to be one of a mix of options, not the only and we need a School Board that gets it by listening, not telling and threatening.