Saturday, February 20, 2010

RIP the string program that gave us Joshua Bell

The Monroe County school district (that's Bloomington, Indiana, to the outside world) has figured out a way to save the district $20,000 per year: deprive 150 elementary school students of the opportunity to have a string program in school. Joshua Bell began playing violin in that string program. I seem to remember that Joshua Bell's mother, Shirley Bell, had something to do with the success of that program. The program certainly had something to do with the success of her son. Here's the article.

$20,000 a year looks like the part-time salary of one person (certainly doing full-time work). The school district has also eliminated their school librarians.

My son Ben mentioned reading Book Eight of Aristotle's Politics. Perhaps this might be a good moment to consider what Aristotle had to say (scroll down to Part III) about the value of music education in a civilized state.

It is like "Breaking Away" all over again, but the cutters are now the budget cutters, making an even more striking contrast between "town" and "gown" in university-town America.


Anonymous said...

The school system is in deep trouble, which killing the string program will not dent.

"Some 91% of the General Fund is allocated to personnel costs (salaries and benefits) for teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodians, maintenance, educational support and supervisory employees."

Of the 2007 Budget of $64 million with a debt service of almost $12 million for that year alone, the budget shows a total indebtedness as of that year of over $96 million.

This means they are paying salaries with indebtedness, basically borrowing money each year because tax revenues alone cannot fund them any longer.

The string program should be set up as a private, non-profit and continued for the benefit of young musicians, because no money going to it will be spent for it through the system.

Lily said...

It is really bizarre the way governments respond to economic problems. Education, which to my mind is the most important prerequisite in a civilised society, always suffers first. In England, schools and universities have had their budgets slashed, but our incompetent bankers are still getting their bonuses.

Elaine Fine said...

As a private non-profit company, a string program that would serve 150 students would cost far more than $20,000 a year to to run. Considering renting space--a rehearsal room, a few private lesson rooms, a secure room for storing instruments, buying and maintaining instruments (particularly the larger ones), paying for heat, paying for electricity, arranging for parking, building a library, and paying salaries to part-time teachers, you would be looking at exponentially more money.

The students would have to pay for lessons and instrument rentals. This alone would not allow string playing to be an option for kids who didn't have the financial means (or the parental driving time) to take private lessons.

A physically and community-oriented activity like string playing can do wonders for children who need help developing social skills, or redirecting non-productive behavior into productive behavior.

In my experience it is often the "smart kids" who are drawn to music, particularly to string playing. They may not be the "smart kids" when they start, but they become infinitely smarter in their other subjects as they progress as string players.

Sure, there are a large number of qualified string players who teach privately in Bloomington, but for a full-time elementary school student having a place to play with your peers that is part of the school curriculum makes all the difference in the world. For a mere $20,000 a year Bloomington has been able to provide a life- and education-enhancing program that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I don't understand why more people don't see it this way.

Kids define themselves by the school activities that they do, and they define their community by the school activities that their peers participate in.

Unknown said...

The unions are breaking the bank. Its as simple as that. Look at RI and CA.. both have districts that forced the hand of the citizenry to proclaim.. enough is enough.. take a hike.

Coming soon to a district near you.

And its not just the teachers unions. NJ toll booth collectors are retiring with $100k pensions PLUS benes. Its BS, and its coming to an end. Bush drove us to the Brink, and the boy wonder put the accelerator to the floor, not wanting to "waste a crisies". Get ready for years of belt-tightening.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Fine, I assume your optimism explains why the political leadership of the Bloomington system then is canceling this valuable program, if it valuable to them. Obviously it is not, and that is the tragedy. Your local politicians are not optimistic for the high culture nor bright kids of which you write. It seems what they are optimistic for is more cash for themselves first and last.