Schools in crisis: Playing out of Tune

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Twenty five percent of Lansing teachers who will be laid off are music teachers, according to Abby Zarimba, music teacher at Pleasant View Magnet School

Twenty five percent of Lansing teachers who will be laid off are music teachers.


Editor’s note: This is the second of three stories looking at the fiscal challenges facing Lansing schools. Day 1: Elementary art to be crafted, not cut. Day 3: Lansing School District restructured



LANSING- Lansing elementary students will have a hard time staying in tune because of staff cuts to elementary music programs.

The Lansing School District is rearranging elementary music education by cutting the teachers who teach it and instead requiring that classroom teachers incorporate it into other lessons.

Elementary music education is going to be taught by regular elementary classroom teachers in the 2013-2014 school year, said Bob Kolt, Lansing School District spokesperson. The cuts are to help make up for a $9 million budget deficit for the school year.

The district is eliminating 48 positions in art, music, physical education and library media. About 12 are elementary music teachers, according to Abby Zarima, music teacher at Pleasant View Magnet School. Zarimba said she is going to lose her job at the end of the school year because of the cuts.

The district is also planning on keeping five to 10 staff positions open to help teach music, art, physical education and library media, said Assistant Superintendent for Operations Sam Sinicropi.

Kolt said the district will be bringing in professionals to help with the teaching load of music also.

One solution is to involve the Arts Council of Greater Lansing said Kolt.

What does Lansing lose by rearranging elementary music (video)?

Although no official communication has been made, Leslie Donaldson, the executive director of the arts group, said she has been informed the district could be looking to them for assistance in the form of a committee to help find guidance for teaching elementary music. The council serves as an intermediary between the arts and culture community and the municipal and business community in greater Lansing.

Donaldson said the Lansing community can provide high-quality music programs for students, but can’t provide high-quality teaching in schools.

“There is no way the arts and cultural community can replace what a certified arts and music teacher could provide on a daily basis,” said Donaldson.

Zarimba said students are getting the short end of the stick.

“When we have students who only find their niche in art, music or physical education, we’re taking that away from them,” said Zarimba, “They don’t have much, and we’re taking way the bright spot in some of their days.”

Lansing schools will be losing a lot by laying off non-musically trained professionals said Cynthia Taggart, professor of music education at Michigan State University.

“Music is important for children to help themselves become creative and to help express themselves,” said Taggart. “There is also evidence that early childhood music helps language skill development.”

The Lansing district is already behind surrounding districts musically, said Scott Davis, the Lansing Sexton High School band director.

“Things are very poor musically,” said Davis, “The only thing kids will learn will be from the radio.”

“They don’t get the education they need…We have so many kids who can’t sing correctly because they don’t have quality education,” said Davis.

By the time the current elementary students get to high school, the band programs could be whittled down to almost nothing, Davis said.

This year was the first time Sexton had a marching band in several years, he said. In the past, they couldn’t march  because  fewer than 20 students signed up.   He expects participation to drop again in a couple years because of the cuts to elementary music education.

Some experts say that in the long run cutting the arts will harm the district financially because students will leave.

SAT scores of high students in the arts. Data supplied by Caroline Mallory's report on "The Effect of Music on Math and Science Standardized Test Scores."

SAT scores of high students in the arts. Data supplied by Caroline Mallory’s report on “The Effect of Music on Math and Science Standardized Test Scores.”

Taggart said that students will leave Lansing to go to districts like Okemos that can provide a better music education for the students. Zarimba agrees.

“I’ve talked to many parents who said, if my kid who’s a third grader doesn’t get music education from a music teacher, I’m going to leave,” said Zarimba.

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