Several school district music teachers are petitioning proposed cuts to their department, which totals less than half of one full-time equivalent position next school year.
The Guilderland Board of Education recently adopted a 2014-15 budget, which faces a public vote on May 20 and included cutting 0.3 full-time equivalent position for a savings of nearing $20,000. Some music teachers attended the board’s Tuesday, April 29, meeting and requested 0.25 FTE be taken from the 5 FTE unassigned teaching positions included for next school year to place in the music department.
Superintendent Marie Wiles stressed to board members if any of the reductions needed to be restored, she would tap the unassigned teachers.
Board members had given Wiles discretion to restore or keep the proposed music reductions based on if scheduling could be properly adjusted.
Diana Ackner, who has taught music at the district for more than 25 years, shared a letter at the last school board meeting, which was 10 music teachers signed. She said the letter was collaboratively written.
“Some of our feathers were just a little ruffled from the last meeting,” Ackner said.
She pointed to the reason given for instrumental music cuts in the superintendent’s budget, which stated, “A close review of the daily schedules of elementary instrumental music teachers reveals that there are a number of available instructional blocks when teachers are not scheduled with students, but could be.”
Ackner said the teachers disagreed with the rationalization and said they already have a full-day schedule. She added the scheduling of elementary blocks could not be as easily shifted as proposed because the high school has a fixed block schedule.
She said it’s also inaccurate to claim the elementary lessons are “completely flexible.”
The district administrators’ review also revealed “many” elementary lesson group sizes were as few as two students.
“It is easy to say we should just make every group the same size in a large group lesson,” Ackner said. “However, those of us in the field … know we have to serve all of our students and, just like reading or math, some students need the extra help in a small group setting while others can handle a bit larger lesson group.”
Ackner said the achievements of Guilderland music students are “well noted,” and the “importance of a solid music education is truly being overlooked.” She believes the district should be investing more in the program to better align with Common Core standards.
“The decision to cut the program is based on inaccurate data and should be reexamined, with both the music supervisor and the staff for clarification,” she said.
Board member Catherine Barber asked if Wiles would restore the music cuts, which appeared to be “the classic low-dollar, high-impact cut.”
Fellow board member Colleen O’Connell disagreed 0.3 FTE needed to be set aside for the music department, and she was “satisfied” that a solution was found to adjust scheduling.
Wiles said she received several emails from parents concerned over reductions to the music program. She said from the 2010-11 budget to the proposed 2014-15, there has been 1 FTE reduced from music. There have been 63 FTEs reduced from other areas during that same time span.
Wiles said any change in staffing from the budgeted 0.3 FTE reduction would be from “demonstrated need.”
Kate Cohen, a mother of three students in the distrist, said the proposed cuts to the music department would “begin to erode one of the glories” of the school district.
“As it is now, the depth and breadth of the music education program set Guilderland apart. Friends elsewhere envy us when I tell them my kids can start to learn an instrument as young as fourth grade,” Cohen said. “Clearly, Guilderland has, in this matter, deviated from the norm.”