Teachers’ suggestion: Keep elementary music programs

Trio urges board consider keeping 5th, 6th grade programs intact

Three teachers from the Stillwater Area High School Music Department asked the Independent School District 834 Board to consider eliminating the high school music program instead of the fifth- and sixth-grade band and orchestras if voters reject an operating levy renewal this fall.

SAHS Music Department chairman Dr. Erik Christiansen, orchestra director Jerry Jones and band director Dennis Lindsay made their request at Thursday’s board meeting. Among proposed budget reductions if the operating levy is not renewed is the elimination of the elementary school band and orchestra programs.

Christiansen, Jones and Lindsay are concerned cutting the fifth- and sixth-grade music programs would destroy any chance of quickly creating another strong program when economic times turn and programs could be restored.

“The district appears disingenuous and even though the cost center cuts look like they’d only effect the fifth and sixth grade, we’d face the loss of those critical years, making it a quality junior high program at a high school level.” Jones said. “If you eliminate the high school program, it would be more honest because the elimination of 10-12 would allow for future times when economics were better. We know that eliminating the high school program allows for the entire program to heal. It may take seven to ten years to get it back to where it is now, but it would provide us the greatest opportunity.”

Christiansen extolled the accomplishments of the music program.
“We feel that whatever comes from cutting 5/6 music is a mistake as a whole. Our band and choir have the longest string of superior ratings in the state. when we’ve entered contests, we’ve won best of the festival and our music theory classes have been able to award our students college credit,” he said. “Surrounding communities perceive 834 programs as one of the exceptional schools when it comes to music and we’ve had many people come from competing schools and home schools to partake in them.”

The trio finds it interesting that as the school district is starting to be regarded as a model to for surrounding school districts, they might face the same thing neighboring districts just got out of. They cited White Bear Lake, which cut music programs but is beginning to restore them.

Board member George Hoeppner said although he hopes the proposed cuts won’t go into effect, school districts such as White Bear Lake more funding per pupil.

“We bare our heart and soul in these programs and this suggestion we are making is not done lightly,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay noted that fifth- and sixth-grade enrollment in band and orchestra programs currently is 1,000 students across the district, with about 600 students are involved in the high school program. He said cutting the high school music programs would have less effect. He also stated that when White Bear Lake eliminated their music programs in 1993 there was a 68 percent reduction in enrollment.

“The band’s budget has been cut dramatically since I’ve started here, about 30 percent, and our staffs don’t want to see any more damage done,” Lindsay said. “We’re thinking about the long-term health of the program, which is a part of the heart of our district, and I highly recommend that the board takes the long view and supports our decision.”

The board decided to look in to the suggestion further at their March 2 meeting when they will determine what budget cuts might occur if the levy renewal fails.