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A New Spin on the Survival Guide

Josh Harris • Archives • July 6, 2009

According to the Web site for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “At least 47 states faced or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this and/or the next year or two. Combined budget gaps for the remainder of this fiscal year and state fiscal years 2010 and 2011 are estimated to total more than $350 billion.” When we originally envisaged the SBO “Survival Guide,” it was intended to be a publication for new and veteran teachers to provide support and ideas to help them deal with the normal, day-to-day struggles as a music teacher. Although we still provide this type of information, with the current economic meltdown, this issue has taken us on a divergent path, and that is to be more focused on how to save music programs from being cut from school budgets.

I have seen firsthand the effects of the cost-cutting measures within my son’s middle school, as several highly skilled and well-liked academic teachers have been given pink slips. The music program was spared this downsizing, although many parents were quite nervous throughout the process. One person whom I hold in very high regard, Dr. John Benham is, unfortunately, quite busy now due to the fact that he is applying his expertise in saving school music programs. We consult with Dr. Benham in this issue to discuss myriad ways to manage the potential cuts to music programs.

Two important points, among many others, stand out within Dr. Benham’s approach, and they are political power and a sound economic argument. The power is in the numbers, and the more people who are marshaled and represented in support of music education, the greater chance there is surviving of an economic cut. It’s hard to ignore a well-organized group of parents and students who show up at a school board meeting to let the superintendent know that they don’t want to lose their children’s music program.

The economic argument John makes is that the band or orchestra director is often one of the most “efficient” teachers in terms of the number of students in his or her classroom. It’s not unusual for a band director to have 200 or more students during each day, which is significantly more than most other academic classroom teachers. Once these students are displaced, however, they need someplace else to go, and therein lies the problem. Benham’s argument shows, through a cogent economic analysis, that it often costs the school system more money than the amount would save by cutting the music program. An outline of his plans is shown in greater detail in this issue.

Lastly, the informative Web site, www.supportmusic.com, which is supported through a coalition of music associations, organizations, and companies, including NAMM, MENC, DCI, ASCAP, Yamaha, Guitar Center, Grammy Foundation, and dozens of others, provides a wealth of news, ideas, and resources for anyone with concerns about their school music program.

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