No money for music: Budget cuts endangering Tulsa school's band program
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Saturday, May 12, 2012
5/12/12 at 7:08 AM
To its 29 members, Webster High School's band is about much more than music. But come fall, it may simply be no more.
Tulsa Public Schools is in the process of slashing 150 teaching positions from its ranks for 2012-13, and at Webster, one of those on the chopping block is held by band director Carl Curtis.
"I'm retiring - I've had the date on my calendar for 10 years. It is pure coincidence that things are only getting worse," said Curtis, who is in his 27th year with Tulsa Public Schools. "I'm going on to do different things - I'm not trying to save my job. I'm trying to save this program because of the wonderful kids we have here."
During the previous three years, TPS saw its state funding decline by $21.6 million and responded by slashing $22.1 million in spending out of its budgets, including the closure of 13 schools, the elimination of 130 administrative and support positions and 291 teaching positions, and engaging in an aggressive energy efficiency initiative that has saved the district millions in utility costs.
Now, its share of federal Jobs Bill funding to save teacher jobs has run out and state leaders are advocating for a personal income tax cut that education leaders fear may further sap state aid for public schools.
"The Legislature is more interested in cutting taxes than preventing more cuts to the teaching work force," Curtis said. "To take away a program that provides kids with an opportunity to go to college that they might not otherwise have is, to me, borderline criminal."
One of those students who might be personally affected is Webster junior Gabbie Wright, who has long hoped that her ability to play flute and bassoon could buy her a ticket to Oklahoma State University on a band scholarship.
"I started band in fifth grade at Robertson Elementary, and I was in band at Clinton Middle School. If I don't have band, it's going to be very hard to get a scholarship," said Wright, 17.
Band is also the axis of the social lives of many of its members at Webster.
"Most of my friends are in band. Band has always been a huge part of my life. I was planning to audition for drum major next year. It's also made me keep my grades up to keep eligible," Wright said.
Sophomore Jennifer Ramey said she feels singled out because she attends a small school.
"It takes a lot of skill and patience and practice to do what we do. We shouldn't be punished," the 16-year-old said.
Principal Jim Rector said years of reductions in state aid to schools means nearly any program with low student interest has already been cut.
While enrollment in the school's broadcast media classes isn't what Rector would like, the school received a large federal grant to establish the program, so he can't cut in that department. And because the school's math scores are low, that department will be shielded from the new cuts, as well.
With five positions to cut, that left the social studies and English departments, English Language Learner instruction and music classes.
"I'm fighting every way I know how for it not to happen," Rector said. "We would be the only high school without a band."
Heath Miller, band director at Memorial High School and coordinator of all bands in TPS, said the elimination of the Webster program would leave all of those students without their school "home."
"I could quote you all the statistics I have about the impact on test scores, and student discipline, and the impact band has on a school, but it wouldn't mean as much as simply saying, 'Where will these students go?'
"The kids in band have their place in the school and feel like they belong. If there is no band, what do the kids do? What is there to inspire kids to excel? How do we teach the kids that there is more out there besides a math equation and a science formula? What will kids read and write about if they don't know what there is to read and write about?"
The elimination, Miller points out, would also have ripple effects on the band at Clinton Middle School and bands in its feeder elementary schools.
"Kids cannot afford to not have programs like this in high school. This is a slippery slope," Miller said.
Curtis said he can trace the beginning of his own career in music to his earliest days in school band, when he was in the ninth grade. He wasn't any good at first but said he worked at his music. By his junior year, he was arranging music.
"Any performance class that teaches kids to put themselves aside, to subjugate themselves to the music and get that cohesive group setting - they will learn something from it. And it may also spark an interest in them they didn't have before," he said.
Team sports may be another pursuit through which children can learn teamwork, but Curtis admits he's biased in thinking music groups offer many more opportunities for life lessons.
"In basketball there may be 12 players on the team, but the coach sends out the best five onto the court," he said. "In football, there may be 40 players on the roster, but only 11 will play on the offense and 11 will play on the defense. In band, nobody sits on the bench."
The cuts at Webster and throughout Tulsa Public Schools will mean yet another round of class-size increases, plus the elimination of some foreign language, driver's education, music and Advanced Placement courses at several secondary schools.
Class sizes are returning to what they were in the 1950s and '60s, but Curtis maintains that was a time of greater self-discipline, discipline at home and social conformity than the world kids are growing up in today.
"Kids' learning styles have changed, and they need more individualized attention. You have to adjust to meet their needs," he said.
Original Print Headline: Cuts may disband band
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Briann Piquet (front) and Adalid Ciriaco play piccolo and flute, respectively, during a Webster High School band rehearsal on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Webster High School band director Carl Curtis stands in the hallway after band rehearsal at the school on Thursday. The school is in danger of losing its band program. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
The Webster High School band rehearses Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Jackson Harrison plays the trumpet during a Webster High School band rehearsal. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World