Fierce reaction to proposed music cuts at school board meeting

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      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.


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      Apr 16, 2014 at 8:07pm

      This is the Province's doing - decades of Liberal rule which have brought systemic deep cuts to education. The school boards are left scrambling and and on the defensive, when they are not the ones who begat this short-fall. Six years ago, I sat in the meeting room of the VSB, protesting cuts to the School Board's exemplary Elementary Strings Programme. Ten years later, my daughter is a member of Lord Byng mini-school's Senior Honours Orchestra and the Lord Byng Symphony Orchestra, and winning international medals. She also hopes to win a scholarship to McGill for her university studies. This is what the Liberals are killing in their constant push towards the privatization of education: the hopes and dreams of a generation.


      Apr 16, 2014 at 10:13pm

      It is utterly insane that the VSB has to scramble to overcome a $12M deficit when the province is willing to commit $2B or more to building a bridge for which there is no demonstrated need. Forget the school board; it's our Liberal MLAs who need to be held to account.


      Apr 17, 2014 at 8:17am

      Come on Georgia Straight readers! You're surprised by this? Do any of you have ANY idea how much teacher/education hatred there is out there? Despite masses of information to the contrary, the image of the lazy overpaid teacher backed by an intransigent union persists. (Some of you will no doubt insist that this IS a correct image.) Obviously, if the public thinks teachers are lazy and overpaid then cutting education funding makes good political sense. Don't blame the teachers or the Liberals, blame the public, that somehow still thinks that teachers should work for free.

      Catherine Shaw

      Apr 17, 2014 at 8:19am

      There is an online petition to the Trustees to voice your opposition to the elimination of Vancouver School Board music programs:

      And if you feel passionate about this, please write to the MLAs, the Premier, and the Minister of Education to advocate for adequate funding for public education in BC.

      Thank you.


      Apr 18, 2014 at 4:18pm

      it is my understanding that music comes before speech as a child and when you end up in the throes of dementia when you can't form words, you remember the music you grew up with. music comes from our hearts and our souls. our provincial as well as federal governments have no heart and now i am thinking, no souls. when a child cannot excel in what may be called traditional scholastics or athletics, they have the chance to participate in music.previous posters are correct regarding self-esteem and achievement. btw, music is math and also is a language shared globally. our libs don't get it or understand the basic logic.
      i fear we are all still paying for their many mistakes.

      Carol LaSalle

      Apr 18, 2014 at 10:29pm

      While I agree that sports and music are a huge benefit to any child's life, it is not the responsibility of the public school to provide either. This is a relatively new expectation.

      All tax payers should not be on the hook for these extras. School is to prepare children for jobs/careers that will enable them to contribute to society. There are a number of foundations who can provide for these extras.


      Apr 19, 2014 at 12:57am

      If school is to prepare children for jobs/careers that will enable them to contribute to society, then the creative arts (including music) are not "extras" but necessities. Where else can a child learn to express himself or herself nin a constructive manner? Where else can a child experience what it is like to persevere at something hard, working on minute details with others to create and experience something beautiful and powerful?

      Not everyone is going to have a cushy office job, and yet often what those people who are janitors and garbage live for at the end of the day is sports and arts. They live for the moments outside of work - which as a society we want also to be productive. We need them to keep doing their jobs for our society to function, but they need the pressure/release valve of the arts to maintain their quality of life. In the arts they meet and create community, and also give back, creating a healthy society.

      There is a huge difference between making a living and having a life - the arts are what makes a difference.


      Apr 19, 2014 at 1:03pm

      Instead of cutting music programs, how about getting rid of the bloated middle management. Look at this army of people working in the Superintendant's Office:

      Many are ex-principals feeding at the trough.


      Apr 23, 2014 at 10:19am

      @Carol LaSalle

      Of course school is to prepare you for success in later life.

      The decline of schooling has to be fought tooth and nail.

      A young man of gentle birth in 19th century England would have, like our kids, been able to read, write, multiply and divide; he would also have been taught the violin or pianoforte, to shoot, ride, and wield a sword; to recite poetry in Greek; and if he had any hope at all of being a doctor, lawyer, or clergyman would have been able to read and converse fluently in Latin. If a scientist, German; if a diplomat, in French.

      It was thought that this diversity of skills would render the mind strong and pliable, and it still makes sense that, when it comes to young brains in particular, more is better.

      In sum, I believe that it is all core education, not extras.

      You make a good point about foundations though. It would be interesting to read an article that put the public school offerings in a context showing the additional education that a kid could get, that includes the many community, for-profit, non-profit, and grant-eligible resources.