Dear MCPASD Community Members,
On April 6, the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) administration notified 3rd-grade families that they had cut the 4th-grade orchestra. The MHS Band and Orchestra Boosters are now working to engage the community to help save this program that is so valuable to our students & our community.
How was this decision made?
The District faces a significant budget shortfall due to the Legislature's funding limits and a dispute about using pandemic funds (which has now been resolved). As a result, the District plans to cut approximately $600,000 in expenses for 2022-2023 and roughly $2,000,000 for 2023-2024 and going forward. This is why the District is considering a Fall 2022 referendum on increasing the funding for our schools. Read more about that here: https://www.mcpasd.k12.wi.us/page/2022engagementsessions. To get through this year, the District is looking to balance tapping into reserve funds, using some of the pandemic relief funds, and reducing expenditures.
The primary (full-time) 4th-grade orchestra teacher left in December 2021. It must look like a painless way for the administration to cut some expenses because there is no "body" in that position now but several qualified teachers are interested in this position for next year.
The Board has not approved this budgetary cut, and as it represents a significant shift in the school system's policy, it must be consulted and approve the budget. The Board is now considering whether to confirm the administration's recommendation (to cut the 4th-grade orchestra) or continue to support the 4th-grade orchestra.
Why is cutting 4th-grade orchestra a problem for our community?
1. The real but immeasurable consequences.
The orchestra program is equitable, inclusive, and welcoming to all students. By removing this introduction to study a stringed instrument in 4th-grade, fewer students will find their "place" in peer groups, educational opportunities & experiences, and their school community.
4th-grade orchestra requires no financial or extracurricular commitment - all kids start together. By 4th-grade, many students have been playing a sport or learning to dance or play piano since a young age. These experiences require a family to commit time and financial resources to private lessons & clubs. But, almost uniquely in the 4th-grade orchestra, every student starts on the same page.
2. Fewer orchestra students will be in the District.
By 5th grade in Middle School, kids are starting to identify themselves as "athletes" or "smart kids," "gamers," or any of the names to identify themselves. Not many have had the exposure to playing music to identify as a "musician." The open chance to start music with your other classmates, when very few have much experience with stringed instruments and when identities are still being formed, is unmatched.
Introduction to strings in 4th-grade allows students to discover their talents as performers in a smaller classroom community before they move to the larger, more intimidating middle school environment. Unfortunately, students will lose this opportunity, including those that might be interested in the band, choir, or musical theater.
This introduction to music is powerful. Studies show, and our experience locally confirms, that if we cut the 4th-grade orchestra, we will lose about 60% of the students in the high school orchestra and many others in the music curriculum. There are currently 810 MCPASD orchestra students — the second-highest student enrollment for a co-curricular activity. Band has the highest enrollment.
When students cannot start in the orchestra program in elementary school, they may select other electives in Middle School and High School, which require more staffing and cost the District more money than it saves by cutting the 4th-grade orchestra!
3. A learning opportunity is taken away.
One major issue is whether this is an operational or budget issue.
For decades, the 4th-grade orchestra has been a foundational piece of MCPASD's commitment to music and the arts. It is based on our culture and the science about when best to start an instrument (3rd grade would be ideal, 4th-grade is the next best). The Board should be making policy decisions, not presented with a fait accompli. Simply put, the school board represents the community's voice and prioritizes the culture and policies of our schools. It is critical that the Board measure this shift with an eye toward the greater community and not casually change the program out of expediency in balancing a short-term budgetary shortfall. We hope this doesn't prove true, but IF the referendum fails, the Board will be looking at more restructuring than just the 4th-grade orchestra. But that situation should be addressed when it is an issue, not now when we have a one-year shortfall that could be covered in other ways.
4. It does not help the budget situation.
When students cannot start in the orchestra program in elementary school, they may select other electives in Middle School and High School, which require more staffing and cost the District more money than it saves by cutting the 4th-grade orchestra! The "bang for the buck" in this program is likely unmatched.
The budget shortfall is a Statewide issue exacerbated by the pandemic. The long-term solution is two-fold: pass the referendum in the Fall (for the 2023-24 fiscal year) and lobby the Legislature to change how schools are funded. In the short term, the Board and Administration need to find a one-year bridge before considering serious cuts and changes to our curriculum. Said another way, don't panic into error!
What can we do?
BE HEARD! We must stress how important it is to email the District leaders & attend the meeting on April 25. They ARE listening. The fate of the 4th-grade orchestra program does hang in the balance, and it is only through community demand that we can save it.
Please read all of our communications via email and social media! We will frequently be sharing between now and April 25! We know it will be a lot, but it will be essential information.
Please save the date to attend the next Board of Education meeting on Monday, April 25 at 7 pm at Kromrey Middle School.
Please write a letter to our District leaders.
Superintendent Dr. Dana Monogue: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra: email@example.com
Director of Middle School Education Keith Schneider: firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Elementary Education Marybeth Paulisse: email@example.com
To mail all 9 Board of Education members at once: firstname.lastname@example.org
Suggestions for your letter
Personal stories about how 4th-grade orchestra positively affected your child
How do you feel about the District administration making this decision without considering the long-term consequences?
Importance of music in the schools and community
Equity of the situation: The desire to have this opportunity for an equal playing field and introduction to the orchestra at a time in a student's life when it really matters.
We appreciate your support.
MHS Band & Orchestra Boosters