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Proposed music cuts strike a sour note in Brookline

Posted by Brock Parker  March 29, 2013 02:43 PM

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When Barton Ramos’s autistic son Reuben was having trouble in regular 5th grade classrooms last year, teachers at Brookline’s Runkle School noticed one subject where he was excelling — music.

Behind his classmates in some verbal and communication skills, Reuben, who plays bass in the Brookline Youth Orchestra, was ahead of the pack musically, Barton Ramos said.

“He can interact with all of his peers in this area, and be accepted and valued,” his father said.

But now Ramos is worried that proposed cuts to music classes in Brookline schools could deprive his son the sense of community he gets out of music just as he has begun to make strides in reading comprehension.

Faced with rising enrollment, teacher salaries and potential reductions in federal funding for special education, Brookline Superintendent of Schools Bill Lupini has proposed several cuts, including reducing music classes for Kindergarten through 3rd grade students from twice to once a week. He has also proposed eliminating a second music class that is available now to only some students in the 6th through 8th.

The cuts would save the district about $264,000 by laying off the equivalent of about 4.6 full-time teaching positions. It is one of several cuts, including the possible elimination of an enrichment, challenge and support program, that will go before Brookline’s School Committee for a vote on April 11.

Lupini said he does have concerns about cutting back music classes, especially those for Kindergarten through 3rd grades, but the district would need more revenue to restore or partially restore the cuts.

School Committee Chairman Alan Morse said a number of parents have voiced concerns about the proposed cuts to the School Committee.

“I’m sure that we will discuss it again,” he said.

Some of the town’s music teachers are also chiming in, asking the School Committee to reconsider.

Meredith Huntley, a music teacher at the Kindergarten through 8th grade Heath School in Brookline, said that in addition to a “slew” of music teachers losing their jobs, children of less affluent families will suffer the most.

“Any time you cut your arts you are assuming your parent community can supplement with private piano lessons and private guitar lessons,” Huntley said. “We have a lot of families in Brookline on the low-income end who can’t do that and this is their only access to music education.”

Huntley said she’s hoping the school district will look at whether the proposal is equitable and reconsider the cuts.

After an outcry from parents concerned about the possible elimination of the enrichment, challenge and support program that seeks to help teachers challenge students that learn at different speeds, Lupini has proposed an option that would save part of the program if enough private funding can be raised.

The superintendent has not included any options to the proposed music cuts in his latest addendum to the budget.

Pam Palmucci, a parent of three students at the Heath School, said she would support an effort to maintain the music program at its current level by raising private funds. But she said that also raises concerns when a public school system starts to become a private school system.

While Palmucci said the prospect of the music program being cut is disheartening, she knows the school district is facing budget challenges and she doesn’t know what the answer is.

“I don’t think there’s a happy ending to this,” she said.

Joyce Wong, a professor of engineering at Boston University who has two children in Brookline’s Baker School, said studies have shown that music enhances the ability to learn, and the proposed cuts would be devastating.

While Wong said she could supplement her children’s music education with private lessons, not everyone can, and as a result they will lose more of what little time children have left to create something in school.

“There is something to be said for not losing that in our children,” Wong said.

--Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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