Maple Ridge parents rally for elementary music program

A proposal to cut the Maple Ridge Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district’s elementary band teacher position has struck a sour note with parents, who plan to rally outside the district office on Wednesday to protest the cost-saving measure.

The school district currently faces a $2.2 million shortfall for the 2011/12 school year, and cutting the elementary band teacher position is expected to save $110,000.

However, parents are asking the district to keep the program intact.

“The board is proposing nothing less than the destruction of organized music in our school system, with the loss of all its benefits to our children’s educational experience and outcome,” said Eric Langton parent John Mainer.

It’s a view mirrored by many involved in the elementary band program.

“Cutting elementary band means that no student will experience the joy and gratitude of learning the language of music, and they will miss the opportunity to express their emotions through the art of music,” said Maple Ridge secondary music student Luke Tengs.

“Not only that, but local secondary school music programs will suffer too.”

“If they need to fundraise, do it,” said Maple Ridge secondary student Rhyly Bell. “I personally love band, and Grade 6 would not have been the same without it. I would definitely not be here in my music career if I had not been in band.”

More than 50 parents, students and teachers are expected to take part in the rally.

However, superintendent Jan Unwin stressed no decision has yet been made.

She said there is a long list of measures currently being considered by district staff to make up the $2.2 million shortfall. That list of recommendations will be presented to school board trustees, and the public, at the May 25 meeting. Trustees will have until the end of June to vote on the budget, which provincial law requires them to balance.

“It’s hard to find $2.2 million,” said Unwin.

However, she noted that the cuts to the elementary band teacher position are the only cuts being considered that will potentially affect staffing.

Board chair Ken Clarkson said the elementary band program would not be getting cut, but instead changing locations.

“It’s not a cancellation of the program, but a different way of implementing it,” he said.

Currently, the district employs a band teacher to visit close to 20 elementary schools in the district to deliver the elementary band program to Grade 6 and 7 students.

One option being looked at is to have the district’s high school’s go back to hosting the program the way they did prior to the hiring of the elementary band teacher two years ago.

“Kids have gone to the high schools before for their band,” said Clarkson. “The feeling is we can save money and this will enable band teachers at the high schools to build their program with those Grade 6 and 7 kids, so that when they do come to their school they will take part in their band program.

“Basically it’s a different implementation.”

Unwin said if she controlled the purse strings, she would like to see the program expanded. However, the district doesn’t control of how much money it gets from the provincial government.

“In an ideal world, all students would be getting exposure to music,” she said. “We value this program … I’d like to see every student in the district exposed to a program like this.”

The problem, she added, is dollars, and in a time of shrinking budgets and declining enrollment, there’s less to go around.

“The district is getting smaller, and unfortunately we can’t offer as wide an array of programs as we’d like to.”

– with files from Kerrie-Ann Schoenit


Rally time

A rally to save the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District’s elementary band teacher position will take place at the district education offices at 22225 Brown Avenue in Maple Ridge on Wednesday, May 11 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.