Columnists : Marylee Shrider

Friday, Jan 30 2009 08:02 PM

Marylee Shrider: Don't panic over prospect of school budget cuts — yet

Budget woes are nothing new for our schools, but impending budget cuts really have parents talking.

“Did you hear?” one anxious mom asked me this week. “Stockdale High School cut their band.”

Shocking if it were true, which it absolutely is not, says Stockdale band director John Biller, who started Stockdale’s music program when the school opened 18 years ago.

“Wow, I hadn’t heard that one,” Biller said on Thursday. “There’s a lot of gossip going around about cuts, but, no, it’s my understanding they won’t be disbanding our band.”

Parents worried over whether their budding Mozarts and Picassos will still have creative outlets next year have reason to be concerned, but not panicked. Not yet.

The rumor mills were so on fire this week, I called Kern High School Superintendent Don Carter for the final word on the matter. According to Carter, no decisions — I repeat, no decisions — have been made in regard to who or what will be cut. The cuts, however, are coming. They promise to be the subject of considerable debate in the coming days as teachers, parents, administrators and union members line up to make their case.

It’s hard even to imagine the Kern High School District cutting art, music and drama programs in our schools, which, as one veteran music teacher once told me, have always been “an oasis” in California for high school fine arts programs. And so it has, dating back before I was in the South High School marching band some 35 years ago.

It was with that memory in mind that I scanned the Kern High School District’s list of “items for consideration” after its recent unveiling. Some of the items — like the elimination of the entire athletic program — were over-the-top extreme, while others nearly leapt off the page as obvious first cuts.

By obvious I mean those that come after the glaringly obvious, like the principal partner’s day breakfast, whatever that is. After that, the front-runner would have to be home-to-school transportation, a cut that would save the district an estimated $4.1 million.

Yes, jobs will be lost and parents will be inconvenienced, but the bottom line is student transportation is a courtesy, not a requirement. And cutting that courtesy will be no excuse for cutting school.

“Parents and kids can carpool, ride the GET bus and figure out their own transportation,” says Trustee Ken Mettler. “In very rural areas Kern High School District bus service overlaps those from elementary districts, so we should find ways to eliminate duplicate routes.”

Again, no decisions have been made, but, keeping in mind what’s best for the students — access to art and athletic programs — there’s another service on the list the students could survive without.

Library service. It pains me to say it, but with easy access to the Internet and our beautiful public libraries, on-campus library service is a luxury we can suspend, at least for now.

Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics, among countless others, show that students who participate in music and other arts routinely score “significantly” higher proficiency levels in math and verbal skills and earn more academic honors and awards than non-music students.

The arts are as essential to a well-rounded education as math and English. The impact of music, drama and other forms of self expression cannot be underestimated. Kern County educators know this, which is why the arts have been part of our children’s lives for so long.

“The arts is the place where students are free to express themselves,” Biller says. “It’s in our creative expressive side that we find our humanity.”

These are Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Call her at 395-7474 or write mshrider@bakersfield.com.

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