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A persistent plea for music in schools

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 22, 2007
— The music teachers from Janesville’s public elementary schools are politely pressuring the school board to increase their numbers.

The teachers have appeared at all the board meetings in the past couple months, each time arguing their cause.


They even brought a fourth-grader to help them make their appeal.


Jefferson School fourth-grader Megan Tatroe addressed the board Dec. 10, saying she’s had no school musical this year, no All-City Sing and no choir.


“Music is a part of my life, and it would make me happy if I could be more involved in it at school,” Megan said.


While students still get the required music classes, the teachers say that they’ve had to abandon many of the extras they once provided because two teaching positions were cut this year.


The teachers’ effort is a lesson in how to bring an issue to local elected leaders:


-- Marshal your facts.


-- Present your case.


-- Be reasonable.


-- Be persistent.


But success is doubtful in this case. Budget cuts are looming again in 2008-09. Teaching positions are likely to be cut.


The issue started last spring, when each of the 12 elementary schools had a music teacher.


The enrollments didn’t keep those teachers busy with music the entire day, however, so for several years, the district used them in a number of ways. Music teachers provided a “music and motion” class when the board cut phy ed teachers, so that kids could continue to get 90 minutes of phy ed each week. They were assigned to help out the math teachers, allowing more individualized attention. Teachers also provided choral groups at many of the schools.


Steve Johnson, the district’s director of human services, said he couldn’t justify keeping that many music teachers when other teaching positions were going to be cut, so he recommended that the music staff be trimmed to only the number of hours needed to teach the music curriculum.


The result: With two positions gone, all but one of the teachers must travel to two or three schools each week to meet the demands of the new music-class schedules.


Traveling among schools cuts into teachers’ time. Teachers added up all their weekly travel time and found that it equaled the minutes of one traveling teacher.


The change also has upset the relationships and familiarity they had established when they worked only at one school, teachers have argued. Teachers no longer have their own rooms, so supplies are not as readily available.


Some teachers have for many years produced musical/theatrical productions, but now they have cut back. They’re able to do only one performance per grade level per year, some in December and some in the spring, said teacher Adrian Farris.


That means some students didn’t have a seasonal musical production this month.


“Since we’re all traveling, and our schedules are crazy to begin with, that’s all were going to be able to do,” Farris said.


Teachers’ schedules vary.


Valerie Troxel, speaking to the board in November, said she teaches nine or 10 classes a day, as most elementary music teachers do, and she travels to a different school every afternoon.


“During my prep time, I am usually creating lesson plans, computing grades, traveling or resetting my classroom for the remainder of my teaching day or for the next teacher who will be using it …,” Troxel said. “This leaves no time for small-group rehearsals, (which) include things like speaking parts, solo singers, acting, dancing, the list goes on. I physically don’t have time this year to add in all those extra perks that we’ve come to expect in an elementary show.”


Johnson said he’s working with the teachers and invites them to help create a schedule that works better, but even if the board added one teacher, most teachers still would have to travel to different schools.


“Scheduling and staffing is a complicated process. Sometimes I think the comments are made without a complete understanding of how that has to work, which is one of the reasons I met with them this week,” Johnson said.


Johnson noted that the school board makes the final decision, but board members will have to balance each additional teacher with cutting a position elsewhere.


The school board may be getting pressure from other teachers as it prepares to cut the budget again in the spring.


Elementary school librarian Karen Biege also spoke to the board Dec. 10, asking the board not to make any further cuts among librarians.


Biege promised to come to upcoming board meetings to talk about how important librarians are to students.


BUDGET CALENDAR

The process for approving the annual school budget is a long one. The Janesville School Board recently approved this calendar, which will lead to adoption of the 2008-09 budget.


Feb. 12—Administration presents its 2008-09 financial projection, based on estimates of enrollment, state and federal aids, expenses and other factors.


March 7—Superintendent Tom Evert announces list of budget additions and cuts.


March 11—The additions and cuts and teacher-staffing plan are presented to the school board.


March 13—Public hearing on the cuts, additions and staffing plan.


To be determined—Possible school board study sessions.


March 25—Board discussion on cuts and staffing.


April 8—Preliminary approval of cuts and staffing to be included in the district’s budget document, although the board could make changes later.


To be determined—Possible school board study sessions.


May 13—Budget book distributed. Board approves budget for publication.


June 10—Public budget hearing.


July 8—Final budget adoption.



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