Granite School District's proposal to cut funding for elementary level instrumental music programs struck a sour note in some quarters.
Parents, pupils and teachers attending a five-school elementary orchestral performance Wednesday in Kearns High School wondered, in fact, if the young musicians might be playing their swan song.The school board denies rumors of the program's demise that have been circulating in the district. The board, however, proposed at a recent meeting to halve funding for the program but has no immediate plans to eliminate the other half of the program, said board member Judy Larson.
The proposal to trim the elementary music program by $347,000 was one of several options considered by the board to bring the district budget into the black. About $2.5 million must be cut from current programs.
But at Wednesday night's concert, concerned parents circulated fliers saying the proposed cuts would mean elementary school bands and orchestras could only meet once a week.
The proposed cuts would also eliminate the honors orchestra, decrease the quality of other musical groups, such as youth symphonies, and erase jobs for more than 13 elementary school teachers - half of the 26.8 now on the music roster.
"I don't know how they'll do it with only 10 music teachers for the whole district. The quality of the music will diminish," band teacher John R. Turner said.
While the loss of jobs would mean a personal hardship for educators, the entire district could be adversely affected by reductions in the music program, said Ellis Worthen, music specialist in the district office.
"One day a week is not going to give these kids the time that they need to really learn how to play their instruments," said Connie Porter, a concerned parent.
"If the music program is not appropriately offered at the elementary level, when the students get to junior high, they won't be able to play. This is a bad idea," said Cindy Barney, another parent against the music cuts.
"A lot of these kids don't take private lessons and this is their only opportunity to learn and to play in an orchestra setting."
Turner, who teaches five of the 10 year-round elementary schools participating in the program, said the board's announcement has surprised teachers.
"(The board members) are trying to cut all of the frills out and just go back to basic reading, writing and arithmetic. We feel the arts are just as important and we need to keep fostering those things to make students well-rounded individuals."
"If we cut the music we won't learn as much as we do now, and music is something I've always wanted to study," said 12-year-old Teissa De La Cruz, a Fox Hills Elementary School pupil.
"We want to have as many concerts and learn as much as we want. If we cut the classes down we would be at a disadvantage," said 10-year-old Angela Bowman, a Hillside Elementary music pupil.
"Even if it is only cut by half, it will have dramatic effect. We have about 6,000 elementary students in orchestra. If the staff is cut in half, only half as many students will have the opportunity," said Worthen. Over time, the effect would move into the junior high schools, then the high schools, he said.
Worthen, who next month will take his outstanding Granite Youth Symphony back East where its itinerary will include appearances at both the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, said the district also has an indirect benefit from music and other arts programs.
"Studies show that students who play a musical instrument do better in math, English and social studies," he said. They do better on achievement tests in general than their peers who do not take music courses.