Why is it that when a small town school board is looking to trim some funding from the extra curriculars, they go straight for the throat of the district's strongest arts program?
I've often pondered this particular rhetorical question before, but I think I found my answer tonight. I was in my hometown Monroe ("Give me cheese or give me death." - Arabut Ludlow, not quite verbatim, circa 1873) helping a group of locals make a case to spare the district's band program from having its instructors cut from four to three.
Without getting into too much background, but putting that cut in perspective, there were five band directors in the district six years ago when I graduated with the Monroe High School Class of 2003 (Motto: "Hey, this whole Iraq War thing won't last more than a year or so, right?"). In the face of the last round of cuts, the district's dedicated core of professionals maintained the program as one of the envies of other schools in the conference.
But with two of those professionals retiring this year, there's a movement on the school board to replace them with just one teacher. And when one of the people I was speaking against the cuts with asked the question, "How many of you were in band?" of the school board, my jaw dropped.
Not a single one of them raised their hands, or even flinched.
So we each had a turn speaking our piece. I rambled on a bit as I tend to, and expounded the values and applications of the band program in the real world speaking as a recent alum now working as a semi-productive member of society. There were about a half dozen of us who spoke, but what said volumes more were the 60-70 people, mostly high-schoolers, who packed that board room.
Whatever decision the Monroe School Board makes, they'll have to do it knowing that those kids, my little sister Taylor among them, are looking over their shoulder. And good on 'em, too, for taking an ownership role in the future of a program that literally touches more than half the kids who pass through that school district.
And if the school board doesn't have the first-hand experience themselves to understand the value of the band program, then I hope they take account of the fact that the eyes of Monroe's voters are looking over their shoulders as well. Not that a lack of first-hand experience is an excuse for throwing the arts into a wood chipper any time the budget gets tight.
Mike Shuda, the guy who organized "the resistance," is my case in point. Shuda admitted off the bat, as he addressed the board, that he never took an interest in band when he was a student. But since he became a parent, his daughters have all participated in the program with escalating vigor, his youngest with the most fervor of all.
So when Shuda heard the program his daughter cherished was in jeopardy, even though he didn't quite understand it himself, he did the research and then did something about it. He did what the school board needs to do: analyze the situation, and then do what's best for the kids.
I don't know where the Monroe School District should look to cut the funding they need to cut, but I do know this: the arts have done their time as the budgetary whipping boy for too long while athletics have skated by unscathed.