Bad becomes worse as the district makes deep cuts to its music program which, for many students, doesn’t lag far behind reading, writing and arithmetic in its role in producing well-rounded students who succeed as responsible adults.
The district is planning to cut band, orchestra and all other instrumental music programs next year in half the schools that still have such programs, teachers told The Buffalo News. District administrators said Wednesday that eight full-time instrumental music teachers were cut. Teachers have said they believe the number is closer to nine and that the cuts will lead to the elimination of band programs at 14 schools and reductions at four others.
It’s a troubling development that the district, as is its habit, managed to make worse. Its compressed budgeting process diminished the public’s ability to comment on or even understand the document, which the board rushed to approve last month.
Without the requirement for a public vote on the budget, as most districts are compelled to hold, the School Board sees little reason to include parents and other interested parties in molding the budget. That may be expedient, but it is also a strategy that sacrifices public buy-in.
It is true the school district was faced with a series of bad choices, and made some difficult decisions with its budget.
Kevin Eberle, principal of International Preparatory School, has some discretion over his budget, but felt he was forced to choose between music and other core subjects, including math, English, social studies and science. Keeping a band director would have meant sacrificing a remedial math teacher, he said. “You don’t have an option.”
Yet, he noted that nearly one-third of his students are immigrants – students who need “universal language” programs like instrumental music to keep them engaged. In addition, music education can help with math and language skills, boost intelligence, raise test scores and even motivate students to stay in school. This is not an insignificant matter.
Help is available, yet the district has evidently done nothing to access it. The VH-1 Save the Music Foundation previously donated $1.2 million worth of instruments to help sustain the district’s music program. A condition of that donation was that the district continue to offer instrumental music programs.
The foundation remains committed to partnering with the Buffalo district, according to its executive director, Paul Cothran, who noted that “the idea of pulling instruments is an absolute last resort.”
Yet Cothran diplomatically noted that while his organization has made “numerous attempts to meet with Buffalo Public Schools in an effort to clarify the district’s plans for music programs via phone, letter and email,” no meeting has been scheduled. That does not describe a district looking to protect music education and the students to whom it is important.
Clearly, the School Board can do better. It needs to be clear about the condition and future of its music program. It needs to ensure that parents and taxpayers have critical information. And it needs to get on the phone with the VH-1 foundation.