Tough Choices and The Arts

Thank you for visiting Oklahoma Education Reality Check.   There has been some positive movement on this issue by Tulsa Public Schools administration.  In light of this, I am asking that you not make any further contacts to lobby for action on this issue with anyone in Tulsa Public Schools.  If this is necessary I will update this post again.  I am leaving the text online for now.  If this turns out really well I am sure some people will deserve a big thank you note.

 

 

 

We have learned today about cuts to fine arts staffing in Tulsa Public Schools. No one thinks that school budget cuts are easy.  It is not the fault of TPS that the legislature can’t seem to find a way to fund schools.  Staffing cuts in many areas are inevitable in the current budget crisis.   Hopefully there will be good news on this front before the legislature adjourns, but that does not leave schools time to plan for next year.

Just as in business, schools have to forecast, plan, and implement plans well in advance.  In many ways planning for the first day of school next year begins shortly after the first day of school this year.  Budget and funding issues are legally supposed to be complete by April 1.  (Seems appropriate, somehow.)  Perhaps it is too much to ask to have this all done on time when things are so dire.  But here we are well into May and still nothing has been decided, so far as we know.   So schools must charge ahead  with the cuts for next year.  This is merely tragic.

The resulting situation forces the local school to make the hard decisions and deliver the bad news to their local communities.   And too often the messenger takes the hit instead of those in state government responsible for the message. While this blog is about recent decisions made by Tulsa Public Schools, they are the messenger as mentioned above.

That being said, some budget decisions may be better than others.  Many schools wisely survey their communities for input on budget priorities.  It would also be wise to heed the results of the survey.  Given the unprecedented size of the cuts this year it is a given that cuts are going to impact things that should be left alone.  But it is still good to be creative, intelligent, and student centered in decisions.  According to this article, those who responded to the survey placed the arts near the last choices for cuts. And nobody was going to recommend increasing class sizes by three or four students.Here is the list as reported.

Tulsa Public Schools
(ordered from most to least acceptable)

  1. Reduce central office expenditures.
  2. Modify bell times to reduce transportation costs.
  3. Reduce athletic expenditures.
  4. Increase class size by one student.
  5. Eliminate bus transportation.
  6. Reduce library service expenditures.
  7. Reduce campus security and police expenditures.
  8. Increase class size by two students.
  9. Reduce student health service expenditures at schools.
  10. Reduce fine arts expenditures.
  11. Reduce student counseling.
  12. Increase class size by three students.
  13. Increase class size by four students.

(from Oklahoma Watch online  Tulsa evidently did not give a four day week as a choice.  At least it does not appear.)

To be honest, the cuts to date have largely been congruent with the spirit of this list.

The sad news is that totally cutting music programs at individual schools is a bad idea.  Further, kicking this decision down to the building level is not a best practice.  Staffing may have to be addressed by cooperation between schools, especially for music classes.   So this process was primed to possibly produce some less-than optimum decisions.  There may be more, but so far we have learned that the orchestra program at Hale Jr. High has been eliminated as well as the entire music program at Memorial Jr. High.   Students who have already invested several years in the study of their art will be left high and dry unless they move or transfer.

What is especially upsetting is that both programs were headed in a positive direction.   I don’t have permission to name names, but the orchestra director at Hale Junior High is highly respected educator and musician in the Tulsa are.  She has built  a wonderful program in her time  there.  Her growing program now numbers around one hundred string players and around twenty guitar students.  Plans are to start a Mariachi band next year to better involve the Tulsa Latino community.  The equipment for this has already been purchased.

It had to be even worse for the teacher to hear this news shortly after returning from maternity leave.  It also makes one wonder if she had been properly consulted.

The band and choir programs at Memorial Junior high were under new leadership this year and there was a lot of positive energy.  There was still a long way to go but this year was a good start. This school (formerly Byrd) was once the premier music program in Tulsa Public Schools.   There was a choir as well as band and orchestra.   This could be true again with continued leadership in the classroom and good administrative support. But for now it would be nice just to continue the program at some level.   I would have to check, but at one time schools were required to at least offer music by the reforms from HB1017.  HB1017 has been around for awhile and many laws have been passed since then. If the requirement to offer music is gone it is a tragedy.  There may never have been an enforcement provision (as with the legislative budget deadline).  But having a middle school totally devoid of music instruction is a tragedy and a travesty whether it is contrary to law or not.

Perhaps we shall learn in coming days that the early reports are incorrect or that cooler heads have prevailed and creative ways have been found to continue music at Byrd and orchestra/guitar/mariachi at Hale Junior High.

Most music teachers like having larger classes than academic teachers can tolerate.  It is not unusual at all to walk by a rehearsal and see one teacher with fifty or sixty members of a performing ensemble.    Dr. John Benham of Northwestern University, has done some highly regarded work showing how a properly run music program can be one of the most cost effective programs in a school system.     He is the founder of save-music.org.  If I was a music faculty member or parent of a music student of Tulsa Public Schools I would consider getting in touch with him and his organization ASAP.

 

Music is not the icing on the education cake. It is an important part of the cake.  The surveys in Tulsa public and other schools show that parents understand this.  Perhaps it is still possible to fix these mistakes now.
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