More than 200 concerned parents, students, and community members packed the auditorium at Mount Pleasant Elementary School on April 15 for the chance to weigh in on proposed budget cuts at the Vancouver School Board.
The VSB announced on April 8 that it had a budget shortfall of $12.34 million and submitted a number of proposals to balance the budget. These proposals included cutting the continuing education program and decreasing the number of school days each year, among others.
One of the recommendations made was to eliminate the band and strings program for a savings of $630,651. An alternative suggested was to increase the annual student fee for the band from $25 to $250. This option, however, would still leave a deficit.
“The atmosphere was very tense,” said Elka Yarlowe, CEO of Access to Music Foundation. Access to Music is one of the many groups hoping to prevent these funding cuts. Since 1997, they have raised $85,000 to support music in Vancouver schools. They recently started a campaign to raise money to prevent the current cuts.
At the beginning of the meeting, attendants were treated to a string performance by students from Jamieson Elementary School. “If somebody could see these sixth and seventh graders playing so beautifully and still think that the band and strings program should be cut, then I don’t know,” Yarlowe said. “Kids gain a unique confidence from being able to play an instrument.”
She adds that if the band program is taken away, it will be difficult for children to get into music later on.
“They can’t go into Grade 9 band and just pick up an instrument,” said Yarlowe. “It’s like never teaching a kid to read and then telling them in Grade 9, ‘read this novel and understand it and analyze it.’ ”
Also present at the meeting was Roger Cole, principal oboist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. He read a statement on behalf of Maestro Bramwell Tovey, music director for the VSO.
“Music is the only language understood by everyone in our wonderfully diverse community of citizens,” Tovey’s statement read.
The VSO stated that they strongly urge the VSB to keep the elementary band and strings program, and that if cutbacks are necessary, all cutbacks to the program should be temporary.
“Restoring levels of funding to an already-existing program at a later date in better circumstances, is a much simpler scenario.” read the statement. “It is difficult to believe that if VSB eliminates this program at this moment, a future VSB would welcome the opportunity in better times, to face all the financial issues of recreating it.”
These thoughts were echoed by Christin Reardon MacLellan, president of the Coalition for Music Education in B.C. and education and community programs manager at the VSO. She added she is also against an increase in student fees. “It will restrict access and do a great job of pointing out the haves and have nots, and that’s something we don’t want to see happen.”
One Grade 4 student who stood up to speak said that he had already picked out which instrument he was going to play and that cutting band would break his heart. “If that doesn’t get you to think about this, then what will?” asked Reardon MacLellan.
The attention that the issue has received has led to a new meeting being scheduled for April 17 to solicit more feedback from the public. Reardon MacLellan believes that the music community has made its point.
“I think our message was given loud and clear. Whether it will be listened to is yet to be determined.”
The school board will make its final decision on April 30. The next meetings will be on April 16 at 8 p.m. and on April 17 at 5:30 p.m. at the VSB Education Centre, and April 28 at 7 p.m. at the VSB Education Centre.