Budget panel wants elementary music saved

The Medford schools budget committee on Tuesday joined a chorus of voices calling on the school district of nearly 12,000 pupils to spare the elementary music program amid severe budget cuts.

The committee completed its annual task of approving an operating budget cap, which will be $91.7 million for next year, and set the property tax rate of $4.41 per $1,000 of assessed value. But it went beyond its ordinary charge Tuesday by recommending that the district also do everything in its power to preserve the elementary music program and classroom teachers and to instead consider trimming campus administrators in the face of up to $9 million in cuts next year because of state revenue shortfalls.

The committee includes the seven-member Medford School Board and seven appointed community members. It has no power to decide specifics in the budget beyond the overall amount and the tax rate, but board members on the committee said they hoped to be able to keep some of the elementary music program, if not all of it.

"That was a really positive outcome," said Karen Starchvick, a Jacksonville Elementary parent who has repeatedly implored the district to keep elementary music. "I feel good about that."

Other proposed budget cuts include ending middle-school athletics, reducing the teacher force by 35 and switching to a four-day school week.

&byline2;The next step in the budget process involves a public hearing and adoption of the budget at the School Board's June 16 meeting.

The board and the district administration have been under intense public pressure to scrap a proposal to eliminate the elementary music program as a way to help make up the funding shortfall.

Starchvick, who also is an advocate with the national nonprofit Stand for Children, presented the committee with a 250-signature petition in support of keeping music.

Speakers during a public comment period Tuesday said it was preferable to slightly increase class sizes instead of doing away with elementary music, citing music's ability to motivate students to attend class, as well as its positive effects on academics. Studies have shown knowledge of music aids in math and verbal skills as well as with memory, speakers said.

Nancy Carpenter, music teacher at Howard Elementary School, suggested that the district survey classroom teachers and ask them whether they would prefer losing the music program or having larger class sizes before the district decides the fate of elementary music.

Performing arts are "a basic component of our livability (in Southern Oregon)," said Carolyn Kingsworth, a board member for the Britt Festivals in Jacksonville as well as the Craterian in Medford. "It starts with our kids. They need to learn it."

Medford Schools Superintendent Phil Long said there aren't many options for cuts other than the music program without infringing on classroom teachers or instructional hours.

But board member Paulie Brading said the district had not exhausted efforts to find administrative positions to trim, particularly at the high school level. North and South Medford high schools are each staffed with a principal and three assistant principals.

Long said Medford's high school administrator staffing is not excessive. In fact, 19 out 38 high schools of similar size to North and South have a principal and three assistant principals, according to a phone poll district staff recently conducted.

Starchvick said she is hopeful the district will find a way to hold onto to elementary music.

&byline2;"Music is so important," Starchvick said, choking back tears. "I feel this so strongly today, having been at the last assembly for our school earlier, listening to the chorus, listening to the whole school sing our anthem, listening while the principal pulled out his guitar."

"It was phenomenal," she added. "I stood there thinking all this could be gone."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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