Elementary Specials: Funding Restored for All Elementary Special Classes Except Strings? Can That Be Correct?

At the Monday June 20, 2005 MMSD School Board meeting, funding was restored for music, art and gym elementary specials for a total of about $550,000. Can it be possible that all elementary specials, except elementary strings, would be restored? I can’t believe this. Isn’t the elementary string course an elementary music special (part of the School Board approved music education curriculum). If this restoration of funds exclude the elementary string teachers, isn’t this even more demoralizing to a small group of teachers who have already seen 60% of their colleagues laid off. And, what about the nearly 2,000 children who will only learn half what they previously learned in two years – that’s okay? How can these children’s education NOT be affected if they are only learning half the curriculum?
The Administration in March and the School Board last night have made all these decisions without asking one single question about the impact of their decisions on what children will be able to learn. They did not ask one single question about what planning has taken place in music education curriculum in the past year. There hasn’t been any.
Money is not the only issue. I believe a lack of strategic planning in fine arts is an issue. I’m coming to think this about foreign language and more advanced math in middle school – challenging curriculum in general. Progressive curriculum planning in the face of draconian budget constraints is desperately needed in music education and has not taken place over the past five years that courses have been on the chopping block. Administrative staff admits they have not assessed music curriculum. Without further exploration, staff continues to think only general music is needed. Administrators do not want to pay attention to music education in my opinion, so parents, teachers and the community need to let our School Board know action is needed (comments@madison.k12.wi.us).

Elementary strings has been proposed for elimination for four straight years in one form or another. However, at no time during the past 4 years, has there been any analysis of the music curriculum and standards in light of the financial environment. There has been some discussions about delivery models but no planning to undertake progressive curriculum planning in music – none. That seems a tad irresponsible to me.
Year after year, the community advocates for this program. Yet, in between springs, nothing happens and the downward cycle repeats itself. I’ve told administrators that the layoffs this spring were not needed. We’ve had revenue caps for 10 years, we know expenses are rising faster than revenues, we know that fine arts education is at risk early on – yet, no planning has taken place, none.
I simply do not understand where the continued disconnect is, but I do believe one issue might be the assumption by board members that instrumental music does not include children of poverty or minority children – even though the data show otherwise, because more than 600 elementary school children who studied strings this year are low income. I am left with this impression when based upon Board member and administrator comments made to me.
I continue to hear board members speak about the study of music being elite and also 8th grade algebra and middle school foreign language being elite? Elite white? Elite academic? Rather than using the word “elite” I would like to see board members ask questions about “what do our children need to learn” to be successful in high school and to be successful in post high school college or other education? Offering algebra in 8th grade, and helping more children to be successful in algebra in 8th grade is a necessity. So too is a foreign language in 7th and 8th grade, if not earlier. Where do our kids need to be and how do we get them there? If we don’t ask those questions and provide the necessary courses, parents will vote with their feet – get out of town.
So, with the restoration of the budget in elementary specials, class sizes for all elementary specials will be the same as last year, but does this mean that 60% of elementary string teachers are still laid off and the remaining instrumental elementary string teachers may be faced next year with teaching at 6-7 schools each week.
Further, in the middle of the board discussion last night, the Superintendent announced, not officially but they have gotten a preliminary nod from the federal government, that the district would be receiving about a $1.6 million PEP grant – physical education. He gave no explanation, nor was he asked by any Board member, what is in the grant and how will the resources be allocated? The administrative staff present at the Board meeting, however, were excited at the prospect of adding an athletic coordinator downtown using the federal grant money, because this person would be covered by grant funds. Do the grant funds have to go for an administrative coordinator position so senior or can the downtown staff already doing athletic work be paid through the grant? I hope someone on the Board asks these questions.
While the School Board does not design curriuclum, they are responsible for curriculum policy – what children learn. By state law, a local School Board is responsible for approving sequentially developmental curriculum in a number of areas including the music and art.
In my opinion, direction from the School Board to the administrative staff is needed in music education before our children lose out all together. Work mostly likely needs to take place simultaneously with curriculum and partnership committees. I personally believe a fine arts strategic plan with an action plan is needed ASAP.