Don’t stop the music. That was the note struck by parents, students, and other concerned citizens who flooded the Duxbury High School auditorium Tuesday night to voice their opinions on the upcoming FY05 school budget and potential cuts being discussed.
The public hearing was the idea of the school committee to give citizens the chance to speak their minds about how the school department could meet the town’s recommendation of a $22.9 million dollar budget, 5.2 percent less than their requested $24.2 million.
Among the cuts the committee has investigated to make up the difference are cutting the marching band, beginning instrumental instruction at grade six instead of grade five and increasing the size of art, music, physical education and library classes to one and a half class sizes.
However, with over 50 speakers voicing their concerns Tuesday night, the message to all in the room was clear: keep the music program intact, keep classes from being too large and instead, raise fees.
William Joyce, co-director of the Duxbury Music Promoters, questioned how the committee could consider cutting a music program seen as the best in the state and having an impact on the lives of so many students, including his own child.
“This is the same town that spent money for the performing arts center across the street,” he said. “I believe it was this same committee that proposed the project to put that center in place.”
Joyce added he felt parents would rather see an increase in fees and that the music promoters would help any family who couldn’t afford a larger fee and stressed that the committee instead look for other avenues to cut before it touched the music program.
“I ask the committee to take a look at administrative overhead [instead],” said Joyce. “I feel passionately about [not cutting music] and will fight until the end.”
Perhaps the strongest voice to save the music program came from the man many credit as rescuing it from the effects of budget cuts years ago: 21-year Music Director Ric Madru.
Madru relived the history of the program as he’s seen it, coming off massive budget cuts in the late 1970s and 1980s and how now it was being asked to bear the brunt of a majority of the cuts totaling $81,812.
“The music program is two percent of the school budget, but you are cutting 17 percent of us,” he said. “That is way out of proportion and would devastate this program.”
After speaking out against increasing the class size of music and other art programs, Madru stressed charging a fee for group instrumental instruction instead, backing up his previous compromise with the committee to cut marching band and use those funds to mitigate an increased fee for parents.
“We’ll do fees, we’ll do anything,” said Madru. “My predecessor leftÖand said [a quality music program] couldn’t be done, but I accepted the challenge and said I could do it and we have a great staff who believes like we believe and works like we work.”
At the conclusion of his statements, the room burst into applause with many standing to show their support for Madru and the program’s preservation.
Other speakers supporting the program included Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Steven Karidoyanes and music teacher Jim Vinci, who both shared the educational benefits of music. Current and former students also shared their personal experiences as well as parents who noted how their children benefited from the program educationally and socially.
One parent, George Sjoberg, spoke about the connection he was able to make with his daughter through the music she learned at school, bringing many in the audience to tears.
Nearly as many speakers addressed the suggestion to eliminate 3.8 full-time instructors in special area classes such as music, art, gym and library by teaching these courses in class-and-a-half size groups.
Teachers from all the schools in town spoke out against the increased class sizes as detrimental to students and their learning experience, especially younger students.
Marie Keefe, a fourth grade teacher at Alden, said that when class-and-a-half instruction was needed in the early 1990s, there was an immediate move to eliminate the practice as soon as possible. She then read from a letter signed by 36 staff members of the school that spoke of preserving the school climate that has taken years to achieve.
“We’re remindedÖof children’s needs to feel known and cared for by their teachers,” she said. “There is a sense of community we have all worked so hard for and would be fragmented [with larger classes].”
Other school personnel, such as DHS department chair for health and physical education Denise Makein pointed out that students are “bigger, stronger and faster than in the 1990s” and that their safety as well as the safety of the instructor is paramount.
Graham Stafford, a physical education teacher at Alden, reiterated the safety and educational problems larger class sizes created and instead suggested the committee investigate avenues such as charging outside groups to use school gymnasiums and other rooms.
“Advertise and charge for use of classrooms, cafeterias, and more ñ let’s get creative,” he said.
Parent Steve Jones also provided an update on his mission of using town Community Preservation Act funds to help the schools. Jones said that after speaking with Town Manager Rocco Longo and Town Counsel Robert Troy this would not be a possibility. He did, however, encourage those in attendance to support a move raise taxes through a Proposition 2 1/2 override at town meeting that, if approved, would also require a town-wide vote.
After the meeting, members of the committee praised the passion of those speaking and in attendance, yet said that budget cuts are still a reality everyone has to face.
“The difficulty with it is that the budget does have to be cut and I hope that the school committee will support a balance between raising fees and some reductions that will have to happen,” said Superintendent Eileen Williams.
She reiterated that all of the cuts and revenue increases discussed Tuesday night were merely ideas that were tossed out and that the only solid recommendation was hers for leveling basic services next year.
Williams also said that she expected a night of passionate speeches from many and that she and the committee will do its best to take their words to heart, looking for the right solution for what hopefully will be a short-term problem.
“The difficulty is that with a reduction the size of what we’re looking at, is that we really need to touch on all areas and prudent budgeting usually means, you do takeÖa look at every single line item in the budget and that you try not to take a drastic approach at eliminating programs,” she said. “As some people said [tonight] and they are right, once you eliminate a program it is very difficult to get it back. If you can manage to scale something backÖto try to take a short-term solution, [you hope] that things will get better in the long run.”
Committee Chairwoman Carol Love agreed that she too expected to hear how passionate the Duxbury community and parents feel about the town’s educational system and that there is a lot of work to be done before Williams presents her budget on February 11.
“What surprised me the most is that people are willing to pay the increase fees across the board ñ we heard that loudly and clearly and it is something to take into consideration and hopefully this is a short-term problem and fees are a way you can back them down as quickly as you implement them,” she said.