Fraser Ballantyne played sax in high school.
“Loved it and had a great experience,” the NPA school trustee told the Straight by phone.
He started in Grade 8 at Prince of Wales secondary, which was where he learned tenor saxophone. He had no music instruction in elementary school.
“I played in a jazz band when I finished my high school for a little time,” Ballantyne recalled.
The second-term school trustee doesn’t pick up a sax these days. However, his experience will likely influence his approach to an issue facing the district. It’s regarding the band-and-strings program in elementary schools.
Had it not been for last-minute funding from the province, the program would have been eliminated in the current school year.
With another budget shortfall projected for the upcoming school year starting in September, the board must decide what to do with the program.
Ballantyne has more than 30 years of experience as a teacher, counsellor, and education administrator, and he knows about the good things music does.
“We know statistically that the intellectual retention for kids is greater when they are taking music,” he said.
The question is where to find the $631,000 that it currently costs the district to offer either band or strings instruction in 52 elementary schools per year.
“We wouldn’t be spending the same amount, no way, because we just can’t afford that,” Ballantyne said.
This is where a report by former superintendent Valerie Overgaard will be useful.
Overgaard identified options that would reduce the budget while at the same time maintaining a level of band-and-strings instruction.
One of these is to offer the band program to only Grade 7 students starting in September. Another is to teach strings only to Grade 5, 6, and 7 students.
Ballantyne noted: “Maybe we’re spreading too much out, you know, right now at a big cost, so cut it back wherever it works.”
Citing his own experience, Ballantyne said that it was “not crucial” for him to have missed learning a musical instrument when he was in elementary grade.
“I discovered music really in Grade 8,” Ballantyne said.
Overgaard also reported that some parents like the idea of increased annual participation fees, which currently stand at $25 per student a year. She has heard suggestions of increasing that to $250 a year.
According to Ballantyne, some students shell out as much to ski. “I know kids pay $250 to go for a field trip to Blackcomb.”
Vision Vancouver school trustee Mike Lombardi said in a previous interview that the district will start public consultations on its 2015-16 school year budget in March. The board will vote on the budget in April, and only then will a decision be known on what’s going to happen to the band-and-strings program.
Lombardi blamed the underfunding of education for cuts in music and other services in the school system.
As Lombardi told the Straight by phone: “All we have is a choice of bad choices.”