The ICCSD proposed budget cuts of $440,000 to the elementary orchestra program, unveiled on April 8th, triggered an upset in the orchestra community at City High.
“I think that we need to re-organize and reprioritize what programs we’re actually cutting,” Emma Arp ‘17 said of the proposal. “I just think that there are a lot of kids that are really interested in music and don’t have the chances to do it except for school. It seems kind of hard to take it away from them.”
Arp, who began taking orchestra in 4th grade at Lucas Elementary, believes that orchestra helped her discover her passion for music.
“Music is really important for Iowa City and it just is really important for me too,” Arp said. “I want to to incorporate music in my life later on, and having orchestra was a huge part of that.”
Stephen Murley, ICCSD Superintendent, acknowledges student’s concern about music.
“This is obviously a position the district never wants to be in,” Murley said. “Reducing programs or increasing class sizes, those are not good choices that you have to make.”
While he realizes the budget cuts will have a negative impact, Murley believes this is the only step the district can take.
“What I shared with people is that regardless of where you look in the district, we don’t have any extra programs.” Murley said. “There’s no fluff in the system, and in every program you look at, again going back to the elementary level, whether it’s our teacher librarians or our guidance counselors or the larger class sizes at the grade levels 3-6, or our instrumental program for 4th graders in orchestra. Those are all valuable programs, students benefit from them and they provide a richer learning environment for everybody: students, staff and community. And every one of those reductions winds up coming with a cost.”
Megan Stucky, conductor of City High’s two orchestras, feels that these cuts to 4th grade orchestra are worth much more than the money they require.
“We could change from being one of the best programs in the state to just being another program,” she said. “I think that you’re going to see a drastic change in quality as a delayed beginning of orchestra begins to filter up. We’re going to have less difficult repertoire that we’re going to be able to do, and we’re going to have struggles all around, due to that delay.”
Stucky also believes that the music is important due to the ways it impacts students in other areas of school, which she exemplified in Kwasi Enin, a Long Island senior who has been in the spotlight for being accepted into all eight elite Ivy League schools based in part off of his personal essay about his experiences with orchestra.
“It was about his viola, and about what music taught him in order to achieve,” Stucky said of his admissions letter. “It taught him a different way of thinking, it taught him how to approach scientific problems, math problems in a different way because he had a music education… And every time a student learns music, they’re making connections to math and to science and to english and to history… They use every part of their brain every time they pick up their instrument.”
Although the changes aren’t permanent, Mrs. Stucky hopes that soon parents and students both will see the value in keeping the program extended to fourth graders, and trying to influence the school board in favor of taking it off the chopping block.
“It’s important that the community and the parents and the students voice their opinion on what this program means to them,” she said. “Whether it’s from a student perspective, a parental perspective or a community perspective, on this thriving program and how changing it is going to change the course of the program’s survival.”