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Ladd Elementary K-8 vote Tuesday / board hears supporters of music instruction

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Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board
Musician and former music teacher, Theresa Reed, comments on the advantages of music in schools.

A Monday worksession brought out supporters of elementary school orchestra, band, choir

As state support evaporates, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is planning on a budget that is $19 million smaller than last year. At a worksession Monday night, the board heard teachers, parents and students comment on the cuts.

One cut proposed is to elementary school music. Parent David Delong told the board if music isn’t taught in the early grades, it will die in the school system.

“If you kill music in the elementary schools, you basically kill it in the school system. You have to get them when their young. No elementary school kids are going to have the training or ability to come in in later grades. So, it’s over.”

Former teacher Theresa Reed says what children learn in music lessons transfers to many other disciplines.

“If a child is in an orchestra or a band or a choir, they have to read, they have to focus. They have to learn the intricate ratios of music timing. They have to wait their turn. They have to cooperate. They have to find out what their talents are. They have to recognize other people's talents. They have to work together to produce something,” she said.

“And when they're finished and have graduated school, they'll have a skill that they can use forever.”

The board voted earlier this year to close three elementary schools, which is projected to save $3 million. Other measures in next year’s budget include increasing class sizes from 22 to 25 kids per room. A net of 69 full-time jobs have been cut.

High School senior Bonnie Marriott adorned her testimony with a flute solo. She says she’s going to study engineering at Smith College in the fall.

“The music programs in our elementary, middle and high schools are a huge part of why I have been successful. I've benefited from them every year of my education,” she said.

Board member Tim Doran asked commenters what they would cut instead, out of a very tight budget. The district already plans to ask borough taxpayers for $2 million more this year. Last year, the local contribution, approved by the FNSB Assembly, was $49 million, and this year the proposed request is $51 million. But board member April Smith said she moved her children from homeschooling to public school to take advantage of music instruction.

“I feel like offering music for free is extremely important to me. I don't know how the rest of the board feels. Also, I think the public feels that way too. I know that's a horrible ball to throw back in your court, but if the community needs to go bang on the borough's door for the money for music, we got to find a way to do it,” she said.

The board will have an official meeting tonight, and will hear more on the budget, but they will vote on a proposal to re-configure Ladd Elementary School. The district is shifting 6th graders to middle schools starting next year. But currently, Ladd is a K-8 school.

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Fairbanks North Star Borough School District
Ladd Elementary School principal Cori Anthony explains a proposal to convert the school to K-5 and have a lottery for 6,7,8 graders to attend.

Chief School Administrator Karen Melin explained the proposal lets families enter a lottery to attend middle school at Ladd.

“So, essentially it would be a K-5 neighborhood school, and a 6, 7, 8 School of Choice in one building. So we're actually talking about two separate schools,” she said.

Also at tonight’s meeting, the board will talk about the state-required Reduction in Force Plan.

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