Band cut challenged at open forum

by Jim Boyle

Editor

Band students, parents and boosters turned out in force Monday to express their concern over an apparent proposal to split the Elk River High School’s full-time band director’s position in two.

They expressed fear that the net effect would be to cut way down on opportunities band students and high school musicians now enjoy and derail the recent success of what they described as a high functioning program.

A pair of eighth-graders started it off at open forum.

Michael Hampton and Zachary Griffiths explained how they have devoured opportunities at the middle school level and are looking forward to taking their interest in band to the next level at Elk River High School.

“We don’t want the program to be in a state of confusion,” Hampton said.

Dawn Sorenson, the wife of Dean Sorenson, read a letter from Dean who couldn’t make it because he was in the orchestra pit at the Orpheum practicing for an upcoming performance of Mary Poppins.

He stated in his letter he found it ironic that his career, which was made possible by a quality high school band experience, was what was keeping him from being in attendance at Elk River City Hall.

“I’m (writing) to advocate for the same opportunities I had to remain for our own children,” Dawn Sorenson said on her husband’s behalf.

Sorenson’s letter explained that his musical career has literally taken him all over the world and allowed him to play with some of the greatest artists of the time. He acknowledged not every band student should or will become a professional musician. But he said band prepares students for a broad range of disciplines.

As a member of the band profession for the University of Minnesota, Sorenson said he works with many students who are not music majors but rather math and science majors. He said band students have an advantage when applying for colleges and jobs.

“To reduce the one full-time band teacher will undermine the revitalization efforts and put Elk River High School students at disadvantage when applying for colleges,” he wrote.

Elk River High School senior Jake Esterberg said John Rosner’s expertise and availability has jettisoned his passion for music that he will take to Augsburg College in the fall.

He has been part of the marching band, jazz band, captain of drum line, in the pit orchestra, vice president of the band council and president of wind symphony. He also proctored for Rosner and has plans to pursue a degree in music education.

Esterberg reminded board members the band program went through this once before, and when Rosner’s position was split between two schools it shut down the after-school band program and even access to instruments. It also nicked the before-school jazz program.

Since Rosner’s position has been restored to full time at Elk River High School, the program has flourished, Esterberg said.He credits a welcoming environment to practice before and after school.

Don Shunk is an economist and the parent of four children in the Elk River Area School District. He offered a personal and direct concern about the loss of opportunities to his kids — one at Elk River High School, one at a middle school and two at an elementary school.

He said his oldest is in 10th grade, and he credits his son’s growth personally, musically and academically to his involvement in band and John Rosner’s way of running the program.

School Board Chair Jane Bunting said the matter will be discussed Monday. at a work session.

Superintendent Mark Bezek said after open forum to those in attendance the changes to the high school band program have been well thought out, and they were born out of a $6 million hole the district must climb out of over the three-year period.

Bezek noted the failed referendum from last fall and the decisions of the legislature over the past decade have created a predicament.

“There’s two weeks left in the session, and we could really use your help,” Bezek said. “The more voices our legislators hear, the more it helps.”

Bezek acknowledged budget cuts goes against the grain of the district’s $350,000 per year commitment to bring up the middle school band and music program that has the hope of bolstering the high school band and music programs.

He said the problem is it would take $2.5 million to restore the type of schedule that makes it easier for students to get electives they want.

He said the district and high school administration’s latest plans speak to the numbers of students involved and are well thought out. “I am going to ask you to trust that,” Bezek said.

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