Music programs short of funding

Those who have attended regular public meetings of the Shenandoah County School Board could easily conclude that music is important to the county’s public schools.

At most meetings, after a call to order, an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, Chairman Richard Koontz introduces the evening’s guest performer.

A string quintet from Strasburg High School performed classical and pop selections at January’s meeting. In December, the Signal Knob Middle School percussion ensemble set a cadence for an evening that included a discussion of the district’s course offerings.

Since 2008, the county has witnessed a 37 percent increase of student participation in musical programs. But it’s also seen 50 percent of its funding for musical programs cut since the 2011 fiscal year, Superintendent Jeremy Raley said during a recent work session to discuss budget options for the 2016 fiscal year.

“If we’re going to have these programs, what’s our obligation to fund those?” he asked the board to consider. “Thankfully we have support of booster clubs, but what’s our obligation as an organization?”

Funding for music programs affects everything from the instruments students play to the locations where they perform, but over the years, as the School Board has chosen other educational areas to support, holes in the music program’s funding become all the more obvious.

Pianos are missing keys, brass instruments are rusting and a tambourine is held together with duct tape. Some instruments date to the 1960s — even the 1930s — and are missing altogether.

In 2008, the county had four students interested in learning to play guitar. Now it has 65. Orchestra members have doubled, and interest in band and choir has increased, on average, by more than 20 percent.

But as a result of reduced state funding for public schools, instead of the $30,000 Shenandoah schools could devote to their music programs only five years ago, they now make due with $15,000.

Most efficiently showing the program’s holes are the marching band uniforms Central High School students have been wearing despite the stains and tears.

If denied funding to fix or replace uniforms for the 2015-16 school year, Assistant Principal P. Heath Johnston said the band will probably switch to polo shirts and black pants to wear for parades, football games and shows.

“They’re a whole lot cheaper than uniforms,” Johnston said.

Though fundraising efforts by the school’s band booster program has raised some money over the last year, he said uniforms aren’t the school’s only concern. They also have instruments to replace or fix, and other costs of running a music program.

“The uniforms alone are a substantial amount,” he said.

But Central High School isn’t alone. The county’s other high schools also need to make repairs on their own aging uniforms.

Now that sixth graders are eligible to participate in county music competitions, Raley said middle schools will have more costs in supporting students through travel and instructional supplies.

It’s certainly worth funding, he said, since the county music program is so successful.

“It’s really a showcase of all of our talent,” he told the board, “but we’re not funding that at the level that we need to.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com