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School Committee reinstates music program

Date: 8/2/2010

Aug. 2, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- The Longmeadow School Committee unanimously approved a motion that will save the fifth-grade music program for at least one year.

New Superintendent Marie Doyle presented a proposal to the committee centered around a one-year extension of the program and the formation of a subcommittee that will explore options and make recommendations on how to save the program, which includes a strings section, a chorus section and a band section, on a permanent basis.

"We suggest that we have parents, teachers and administrators on this committee to make sure we're looking at all aspects and to make this work for everyone," Doyle said.

The money for this program, totaling $45,000, is part of surplus funds allocated from the past fiscal year that are not being included in turn backs to the town.

"This is not found money. Does everybody get that?" School Committee and budget subcommittee member Geoffrey Weigland said. "This is surplus money from the fiscal 2010 budget. By rights, this is taxpayer money. This is money that a number of folks in town would argue should be turned back to the town."

The School Committee has agreed to turn back $388,959 to the town.

According to Doyle's plan, school administrators will sent home forms to parents requesting they state which of the programs students are interested in. This sign-up period will run over the course of the first month of school. The program's official start date is targeted for Oct. 1.

The initial proposal also called for a minimum of 15 students in each of the sections to ensure money allocated would be going to a viable program.

"If it starts to get lower than that, is it really viable to have a teacher come in to teach less than that?" Doyle said.

This measure was met with opposition from committee members and the community and minimum participation requirements were not part of the final motion passed for the coming school year.

While the program was reinstated, the public still voiced its concerns regarding the plan approved by the committee.

"We really appreciate it, but let's not mess up the execution of this decision," Longmeadow High School music director Michael Mucci said. "The way I see this plan right now, we are at a disadvantage."

A major sticking point for many, including Mucci, was the Oct. 1 start date for the program.

"September is a very, very important month for that position," Mucci said. "That's the recruitment month ... That month is going to be non-existent. There will be no teacher there to do that."

Susan Lauser, who taught the instrumental program at the elementary level before being "involuntarily transferred" to the Glenbrook Middle School general music program when the instrumental program was dissolved, stated that she often would begin recruiting the in late spring for the following year. She was not able to do that last year, however, because of the program cuts, and she agreed that, September was vital to getting numbers for the programs.

"I feel like we're already running behind in the district," Lauser said.

Mucci added that the majority of qualified teachers that have graduated college will likely have found jobs long before Longmeadow is ready to hire someone for an Oct. 1 start date.

He went on to say that having the principals send home "a piece of paper" to get students to sign up for the pull-out instrumental programs was "less than adequate."

"The elephant in the room is that the elementary schools haven't exactly embraced the pull-out program and they're the ones that are going to be in charge of the recruiting," Mucci said. "I'm not saying they're not going to pass out the papers or anything. I'm just saying they might not be entirely exuberant to go out and shake the trees. That's the job that our full-time position does, beginning in September. That month is crucial. It might be the most important month that that faculty member has all year."

Mucci did laud the formation of a subcommittee to explore the options for the program's future.

"I really applaud Superintendent Doyle. This is the first time I can remember [the music department] hopefully being included on a committee like this," Mucci said.