Ironically, I cannot attend tonight’s Lodi Unified School District (LUSD) Board meeting because I will be attending band rehearsal at San Joaquin Delta College where I am a member of the Stockton Concert Band and Stockton Wind Ensemble. (I am also a member of the Lodi Community Band.) Otherwise, I would attend the meeting and address the Board. Instead, I expressed my feelings to the Board members via email.
The Board will decide whether to accept recommended budget cuts that will result in 500 employees being laid off — 348 teachers, 25 librarians and their assistants, 24 clerical employees, 19 counselors, 15 vice principals, and more than two dozen custodians, grounds workers, maintenance staff, painters, and carpenters. LUSD is facing a $21 million deficit even though it has already decided to close one school, approved an early teacher retirement plan, and laid off 45 employees from the administrative office, including six administrators.
Among those employees facing unemployment tonight: 11 music teachers.
The Lodi News-Sentinel reports that under the proposed plan, “[s]ome music classes could be eliminated, . . . ” Remaining instructors would be required to teach outside their area of subject expertise, and electives such as foreign languages and industrial arts, advanced placement courses, nursing services, and athletic coaches would be scaled back.
I do not envy the Board members because none of the available choices are appealing or desirable. California already ranks 48th out of the 50 states in education spending. Providing a well-rounded, quality education to California students — at all levels — is becoming more challenging every term.
But eliminating instruction in music and the arts is not the answer. I speak from experience.
When fiscal challenges arise, music and the arts always suffer, but it is a mistake to fail to provide students with a well-rounded education. By definition, a “well-rounded” eduction includes instruction in music, the arts, languages, physical education, and all other required curricula such as English, science, history, and math.
Growing up in Lodi, I was active in the public schools’ music and drama programs. I began singing in the elementary school chorus and playing clarinet in the band, and continued participating through high school where I was a member of the A Cappella Choir and Madrigal Singers, as well as the piano accompanist for those groups. During those years, I appeared in more talent shows, concerts, musicals, plays, and other events than I can remember or count, even without considering all of my musical endeavors at church or the private lessons I took from public school teachers.
Music education instills in students a solid work ethic, teaches the importance of goal-oriented discipline, demands a commitment to the achievement of excellence, and facilitates pride in accomplishment. Through musical performances, the ability to stand before and address others without irrational fear is developed. Music is the ultimate “group project” through which students learn how to function within an ensemble, collaborating with other members, and appreciating and validating the contributions of each participant. Studies consistently show that students who study music achieve higher scores and grades in all subjects.
Today I pay tribute to music teachers everywhere, but particularly those from whom I received instruction in Lodi public schools. Many of them became my friends for life and, in fact, I still make music regularly with a few in the ensembles of which we are all members. Through their dedication to their students, those folks instilled in me an unconditional, but boundless love of music and compelling need to continue making music throughout my life.
I earn my daily bread practicing law. I love my profession, but my passion is making music, and I will never stop doing so. I will always play and sing in an ensemble or as a soloist . . . somewhere. That is a direct result of the many fine programs that were offered by LUSD when I was growing up, as well as the caring instruction provided by the many talented and dedicated music teachers from whom I learned so much over the years.
I hope that LUSD’s budget allows for cuts to be made in other areas because instruction in music and the arts in LUSD classrooms is too valuable to the overall development of Lodi students to be lost.