The Ottumwa Courier

March 29, 2012

A sour note in Keosauqua: Cuts to school district’s music program concerns supporters

RUSTY EBERT
Courier correspondent

KEOSAUQUA — Financial cuts within the Van Buren school district, including the music program, has struck the wrong the chord with some in the district

At its recent meeting, the Van Buren school board heard from a delegation asking for the board’s support of the music program at Van Buren. They are concerned that recent cuts in the music department are having a profound impact on the program.

“Studies show that participants who are exposed to music increase their memory and intellectual capability and are less likely to be into drugs, alcohol and non-attendance at school,” said student Calvin Mertens said. “Music is important to a well-rounded education, essential to the arts and should be available to everyone.”

However, he said, the district essentially eliminated a position by not filling a vacancy.

“Now one teacher is expected to serve 296 students in junior and senior high school. Mrs. (Marcie) Atwood does a wonderful job, but she can’t do it all.”

Mertens said his own future has been impacted by the recent cuts. He said he went to a music scholarship contest in Ames and judges noted that he lacked a particular skill that would’ve been taught in music theory, had it not been dropped.

Mertens said he “understood the budget situation the district is in.”

However, he said, sports has taken precedence over music at Van Buren.

“In sports, every five years, each team gets new uniforms. We’re still using the same choir robes we had in 1978. Also, last year, the school spent $89,500 on coaching salaries. Why can’t we take some of that spent on coaches and give it to the music program to hire an extra teacher. We’re showing more interest in extra-curricular activities than in something that is a core educational responsibility of the school.”

According to Mertens, the following have been dropped or reduced because of cutting the music department to one position at the junior-senior high school:

• All-state music auditions

• High school music theory

• High school music appreciation

• Junior high instrumental contest

• High school instrumental lessons reduced

• High school vocal lessons reduced

• Large group contest

• Oktoberfest marching band

• Jazz choir/jazz band

• 2010 solo/contest entries were 19 for vocal and 20 plus for instrumental. In 2012 the entries were 16 for vocal and seven for instrumental.  

Bob Galloway, an instructor at Van Buren, said he agreed with Mertens.

“When you destroy music, you are destroying a part of the arts department. You are destroying humanity. You will lose an opportunity to help young boys and girls. I ask you, don’t kill your music department. The talent is there,” he said.

Van Buren Activity Director Greg Jones also agreed and said “the fine arts department is a key component to education. I say, push our chips forward and go all in.”