Music cut boils down to demand

by Jim Boyle


The Elk River Area School Board dipped into the mechanics of budget cutting at the building level this past week to learn more about the cut to John Rosner’s full-time position as a band and music teacher at Elk River High School.

The instructor, known most notably for his work as the Elk River High School band director, has had his post reduced from full-time to a 0.6 position at the high school. He will fill out the remainder of his continued full-time status with a 0.4 position elsewhere in the school school district, much to the chagrin of the Elk River High School band community.

Rosner’s cut was a piece of the budget work done at Elk River High School where the equivalent of 3.3 full-time teachers were cut and a sliver from across the district where $2.7 million in cuts were enacted by the Elk River Area School Board. These cuts are part of an overall plan to cut $6 million out of the budget over the course of three years.

Dozens of critics of this move regarding Rosner turned out for a recent open forum where they took up the issue with the board and Superintendent Mark Bezek. Many of them came again to Monday’s work session held in the community room at Elk River High School to listen in on the board’s dialogue with high school and district administrators.

These band boosters see the move as detrimental to the recent success of the band program and argue it’s a sign that support for band and music slipping despite efforts at the middle school to bolster it.

What these critics and members of the board heard was a full-blown description of the global budgeting process that is used year after year.

“This is not an Elk River High School issue,” Bezek said. “This has tails  throughout all 17 of our buildings.”

School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting explained that the School Board laid out the parameters for cuts, and the administration identified the areas to cut and what areas to hold harmless. Everything  besides technology  got a look — and a cut — based on the actions of the board.

The decision was made to reduce staff by raising class sizes by one at the elementary level and by one at the secondary level. Depending on the rise fall of student enrollment that meant different things to the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Joe Stangler, the administrator of testing and assessment, explained the processes and how they are similar across the board.

“The difference at the high school is it’s demand driven,” Stangler said. “If the demand for world language is up, we may not reduce it (even in the face of steep budget cuts). If the demand is down, you may end up reducing no matter what. We’re making decisions based on student enrollment.”

Those in attendance heard that is what happened in Rosner’s situation at Elk River High School. His position reverted back to part time due to the laws of supply and demand in high school scheduling.

It had nothing to do with student interest in concert band and wind symphony. It had to do with the less popular choices of music theory and music tech. Based on student requests and projections for retention, there are not enough students willing to take those classes to keep Rosner at Elk River High School all day long.

Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal and Elk River High School Assistant Principal Julie Odegard said it’s the same thing teachers of electives throughout the school face.

“There has to be some self examination. There has to be a period of reflection with regard (to) do you go back out, recruit, capture and sustain those individuals to keep them within the program,” Bizal said. “It’s going to take more than the 47 kids in concert band and 53 kids in wind symphony.”

Bizal said the best way is through word of mouth.

“If you can develop interesting, challenging, relevant and applicable classes and have (students) convince their buddies to come in, I guarantee you will have a return on investment,” Bizal said. “We see that with elective areas that have proven over time they can sustain even the largest cuts.

“That’s the true test to the kids staying within those programs regardless of six-period day, two -period day or whether it’s taught in a sand pit or the best educational setting you can find.”

As for Music Tech II, there were only 10 kids interested and that number will likely fall to about seven based on past experience. As for music theory, there were only eight kids interested in the course, which would likely drop to four or six by next school year.

Bizal and Odegard also took time to strike down myths that they said were running wild.

“The myths that you heard that there won’t be any more band, there won’t be any more wind symphony, that there won’t be any more jazz are false,” Bizal said. “Those courses will run next year.”

Rosner will continue to teach Red and Black in jazz band in the morning before school per the teacher contract.

The pep band will still attend 14 athletic contests.

There will still be a musical director for pit orchestra for one musical.

And there will still be honor band trips, solo and ensemble contests and community performances.

Rosner will, not however, be at Elk River High School at the end of the day, Bizal acknowledged, adding that he can come back to the building to work with kids. The principal said if students need their instruments, a janitor can let them in.

To stay and practice, however, there must be an adult staff member to supervise, as is the case throughout the building after school is over.

“Of the last eight years, Mr. Rosner has only been full time for two of those years,” Odegard said. “We have dealt with this before. It’s obviously not ideal, but it’s something we have dealt with.”