September 15th, 2010 | Published in News
Patrick Overton, a 17-year-old trumpet player in the Grant High School Band, which was featured in the 1995 film “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” sees the irony as plain as the valves on his instrument.
“It’s ironic that in the city where ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ was filmed we can no longer even fund music programs,” said Overton, reflecting on the recent announcement of further music and arts cutbacks in the schools. The film stars Richard Dreyfuss as a frustrated composer-turned-music teacher whose career has a profound effect on his community.
Patrick, whose twin brother, Thomas, plays tenor sax in the band, may have been over-simplifying the state’s cultural arts belt-tightening in the schools, but he wasn’t far off the mark. Matt Shelby, public information officer for Portland Public Schools, cited a reduction of 47 full-time positions throughout the 85 schools districtwide and millions of dollars statewide. Many of the cuts involved non-core programs, mostly in the elementary schools, and included arts and music programs.
“Each year, the principals get their budget allotment for staffing and there are some guidelines as to what they have to have in place,” Shelby said. “But for the most part, the staffing decisions are made by each school. Most of the affected cuts involved elementary schools.
“For instance, one principal can opt for smaller class sizes, and that would mean he or she wouldn’t be able to have specials, such as arts, music, library or P.E.,” he said. “I know some principals moved some full-time teachers to half-time.”
The reduction in cultural arts programs has not been limited to Portland – disappearing revenue and added focus on improving reading and math skills has cut a wide swath statewide as well as nationally. The bottom line is improving the core skill-sets required for students to successfully graduate, according to Shelby.
“Unfortunately, that has limited the options principals have had to face so some schools did reduce arts and music programs,” Shelby said. “Anecdotally, we didn’t lay off a single P.E. teacher, but have laid off music teachers across the board. Some art teachers may have been let go, due to attrition and retirement.” Still in question are library programs and other electives, he said.
Many teachers and school officials have felt the pressure from community leaders and parents to restore cultural arts funding, but have been forced to make hard choices: Get kids up to speed in math and reading or lose more state revenue and add more dismally performing schools.
Susan Smith, a parent and school board member in the Beaverton School District, voiced regret and understanding about the middle school’s loss of its orchestra. “They dissolved the orchestra program because it was an isolated opportunity for students,” she said. “There wasn’t a feeder system in place, since there was no high school orchestra, so they decided to put the funding in the band program,” she said. She said that she feels bad about the 30 or so students who had been in the orchestra and that she had brought up the possibility of reinstating it during a budget meeting, to no avail.
“We’re trying to do what we can with what we’re given,” she said.
The Beaverton School District, perhaps more fortunate than others, proactively sought federal funding, raised $200,000 and met its $800,000 matching i3 (Investing in Innovation Fund) grant. If this hadn’t been accomplished, Beaverton would have sacrificed a $4 million federal arts grant. With the fund-raising success, the grant will subsidize the Arts for Learning Lessons Project benefiting the district’s elementary schools. In this district, at least, the budget cuts may not be as deeply felt as in others.
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