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Reductions to music program approved

Orchestra was removed from the regular curriculum as a result of budget cuts approved by the Perham-Dent School Board last week.

Board members unanimously approved a series of budget cost containments for the 2013-14 school year at a meeting last Wednesday.

Included in the reductions was a restructuring of Perham-Dent’s music program. Expected to save the district more than $60,000 annually, the restructuring will make orchestra a co-curricular activity, rather than an elective course within the curriculum.

As a co-curricular, orchestra could be offered during the school day, or sometime before or after school. Students who elect to participate will no longer receive class credit.

Whether or not the district’s other music offerings, such as garage band, will remain as electives has not yet been determined.

The idea to turn orchestra into a co-curricular offering was met with opposition from some students and parents, who have spoken out against the idea at recent school board meetings.

Last week, Mary Jacobsen, mother of two current orchestra students, told the school board she wished Perham would rally around music the way it rallies around so many other activities. She questioned why Crookston – which, she argued, is similar to Perham in size, demographics and academics – can afford a relatively large student orchestra while Perham cannot.

Orchestra section leader and Perham High School sophomore Callista Wengel said she worried that the move to co-curricular status would harm the musical development of orchestra members.

Others shared concerns about who would teach orchestra, and whether the program’s low enrollment numbers would only be further hurt by the restructuring.

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” said board chairperson Myron Roe. “We’re trying to operate this school district without enough dollars to operate.”

If the budget situation were different, “The board would always be receptive to putting [orchestra] back in the curriculum,” board member Michael Hamann said.

“You might have to take one step back to take two steps forward in the future,” said board member Vincent Pankonin.

The restructuring will bring the total number of district music staff down from almost four full time teachers to three, Superintendent Mitch Anderson said in a follow-up interview.

As a co-curricular, the orchestra program will pay its instructor “significantly less” than it did as an elective course, Anderson said.

“We’re hoping we can keep orchestra as a presence,” he said.

Anderson also said the board hasn’t decided whether it will continue with other music programs, such as garage band, as elective courses.

Choir Director Kevin Kosiak said in a telephone interview Tuesday that, “We sort of were thinking this was a possibility, that the orchestra was going to be cut… All we know is that the orchestra is no longer going to be a part of the school curriculum.  If we have the right person that wants to come in and deal with orchestra as a co-curricular activity, that’s great, but it won’t be a teaching position.”

In all, the school board approved about $350,000 in budget reductions and new revenues last week.

Among several approved measures was a nine percent increase in student activity fees, a dollar-per-person increase in activity ticket prices, a reduction in staff development, and a restructuring of the high school media center position. Reading interventionist and literacy coach positions at the middle and elementary schools were also reduced.

Other adjustments to the budget approved last week included an increase in the district’s art teacher position from half-time to full-time. Currently, there is one part-time art teacher for the 1,300-plus students in the district and no art instruction in the elementary or middle schools.

The addition will “have an impact on a broader number of students,” Anderson said.

The board also voted to hire a Chemical Health Practitioner to “address a problem which is becoming more and more prevalent,” according to Anderson.

The board will pay $20,000 of that position’s salary, with additional funds supplemented by outside organizations.