Des Moines Public Schools School Board Update: Pass the Buck, No Solution Required

The school board meeting does not appear to have solved anything. It would be nice if someone would come up with something new. Let’s face it, folks. Everyone has heard all the statistics about how great music is for kids, yadda yadda. Some of those statistics are skewed and not backed by other research, so you have to be really careful about which ones you use. We’ve also heard all the “it’s not fair, the state needs to fork over” spiel until we’re all sick of it. Again, it’s probably not gonna happen. Someone suggested that private teachers, actually “those with talent” (whatever that means) should step in to fill the void. That may or may not happen, either.

Here is what the board members had to say, copied from the Des Moines Register.

CONNIE BOESEN (CHAIR): “I think it was a very comprehensive plan. It zeroes into the core of what education is all about. None of the cuts we want to make.”

PATTY LINK (VICE CHAIR): “It’s not the news we necessarily want to hear. It’s a lot of money to cut. We’re going to have to use the community to really help us.”

MARGARET BUCKTON: “When this is all said and done, I hope we have a balanced approach rather than a worst-case scenario that only results in expenditures and reductions.”

TEREE CALDWELL-JOHNSON: “These are difficult times. Tough decisions need to be made. I am going to hope for the best with the Legislature. I’m focusing on the long term. This isn’t going to go away.”

DICK MURPHY: “The budget makes the best of a bad situation, and I hope we can find the additional resources to avoid classroom cuts. … I am concerned about all of these cuts. I am not in the game of one against another. I am for finding additional resources.”

GINNY STRONG: “We’ve planned for the worst because we’ve had to, but I’m hopeful it won’t be quite as bad. I’m just hoping the Legislature comes through with some more funding for the school districts.”

JEANETTE WOODS: “This has been the most thought-through budget I’ve ever seen by the Des Moines school district. They’re working as hard as they can to make this fair and equitable.”

Notice how none of these folks actually addresses the elimination of the music programs in the “sound bites” provided by the Register. None provides a solution. None really seems to indicate a clear understanding of the issue. I really hope these are not their full statements on the matter. I don’t see how anyone (Ms. Woods?) can claim that this is fair and equitable. It does not address the long-term at all, Ms. Caldwell-Johnson. The entire solution seems to be based on getting more money from the state. Ms. Link asks for the community to step in and help.

OK. Here’s what needs to happen:

1. We need a guarantee that this is temporary. There needs to be a set timeline. When the money comes back (um, yeah, right), the programs are reinstated. If the money doesn’t come back, the district will need to come up with some sort of stipend, which is less expensive than hiring a teacher. Think of us as coaches, because in essence, that’s what we are. Sports is extracurricular, for the most part; there isn’t any real justification for music lessons and ensembles to have the same status. That’s about all I personally am willing to “compromise” in exchange for keeping the programs active.

2. We need space and use of existing equipment to run the programs, at every school you are eliminating, and if you are asking us to step in then it is going to have to be all or nothing. Additionally, every school needs to be given the opportunity to participate.

3. We need to have a committe to explore alternate funding. This should be a committee of non-district employees, with a couple of ex-officio district members.

4.  We need some kind of acknowledgment from the district, at a board level and at a high administrative level (Dr. Sebring?) that the arts are JUST AS IMPORTANT as traditional academic subjects.  Did you not hear the speakers at the meeting? Look around you at the other large districts.  Most of them clearly understand the importance of excellent music programs.

There are probably other things that need to be addressed, but these are very basic, fundamental things that would be critical to the survival of the instrumental programs until a permanent solution can be implemented.

This is becoming a pattern.  A couple of years ago, the DMPS decided to permanently close Edmunds Academy of Fine Arts, a fine-arts magnet school in a highly economically disadvantaged area of town. Most of the students qualify for free lunches, and the school has underperformed consistently in testing. Parents mobilized and had some very heated discussions with the school board, which finally relented and found another way to “save money”.   The solution to saving Edmunds was not found with more state money; neither did it involve more community support or alternative sources of funding.  The solution to saving instrumental music will likely involve everything except more state money. It might even save Edmunds again, since you can’t have a fine-arts program without music (duh). (Don’t know if anyone thought of that in this whole discussion.)

We need to come up with viable alternatives and real lasting solutions, not continue pointing fingers and passing the buck somewhere else. It’s not the state’s problem. Let me repeat that — it’s not the state’s problem. The district decides how the money is spent.  So the district has a responsibility, a duty, an obligation to work with the community — parents, music faculty, other music professionals, music businesses — to come up with a solid, practical solution to this issue so that it never rears its ugly head again.

You can’t tell nearly ten percent of your student body that they don’t matter because they have chosen to play an instrument. This is the musical equivalent of shutting down the football program at a high school. I seriously doubt that anyone would EVER let that happen. So why is music always one of the first items on the chopping block.

Come on, DMPS, let’s talk some turkey.

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