FARMINGTON — In just over a week, the “Save Mt. Blue Music” campaign that was launched on the social networking site, Facebook, by a Mt. Blue High School student has had nearly 950 supporters sign in and the numbers are growing.
Comments on the site have been submitted by current and former students, parents, community members, musicians, teachers and people from across the country who know of the outstanding music program at the Mt. Blue Regional School District.
The district includes Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Weld, Wilton and Vienna.
The messages reveal dismay and alarm over budget cuts that threaten to eliminate a middle school general music teacher, cut back the start of the famed strings program from third to fourth grade, and reduce supplies, instrument repairs, fees to attend regional music programs and other operating costs.
The school board is currently reviewing a proposed $22 million budget that is $1.5 million less than was raised in 2009-2010 and reflects a loss of $1.6 million in state aid. Twelve teaching positions are proposed to be reduced, and there are deep cuts in programs, operations and supplies across the board.
The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Mt. Blue Middle School cafeteria to begin deliberations.
“Music has been a constant part of my life ever since third grade when I was in the string program. I can’t really separate how much music has helped me because it is so important in my life,” said Mt. Blue High School senior Amanda Hall, who created the Facebook page.
Hall also used the site to alert the virtual community about the school board meeting last Thursday when public comment on the music program cuts was invited.
“I was really, really surprised to see how many took time to attend the meeting. People said they wouldn’t have known about the cuts or the meeting if they hadn’t seen it on Facebook,” Hall said.
She plays violin, cello and viola, is a member of the Mt. Blue High School Orchestra, the Mid-Maine Youth Orchestra and the Franklin County Fiddlers, is an honors student and athlete who has been accepted at Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Bowdoin colleges.
“Out of the 12 seniors in my calculus class, 10 are still involved in music and the other two were involved until their freshmen year,” she said as an example of how music can help students perform academically.
Hall said she created the Facebook page after orchestra members first learned of the threatened cuts from conductor Steve Muise during rehearsal last Wednesday. The orchestra program, which has 106 members, is the largest in the state, according to Muise.
“There was a stunned silence. It just floored us because for so many of us, music has been a constant in our lives,” she said.
On the Facebook site, Hall wrote, “Because of budget cuts, the Mt. Blue Music Department is facing some serious cut-backs — the elimination of general music at the middle school level as well as the program to put a violin in the hands of every third grader. This needs to be stopped.”
At a school board budget workshop Thursday attended by about 100 students and community members, many were there to support the music program. Impassioned comments were presented by Muise, music department chair Carol Shumway and parent John Hickey, whose three children are in the music program. All three started out learning violin in third grade.
School board members said they are asking the community for ideas on other ways to save money rather than cut programs.
“These are extraordinarily difficult financial times,” said board Chairman Raymond Glass.
Shumway said the creative experience music provides for students is critical, and public school programs give them all equal access.
“Let’s not change something that works so well for so many,” she said.
About 42 percent of students participate in orchestra, band or chorus, and enrollment in the high school orchestra is the highest in the district’s history.
Muise recalled that when he was hired in 1991, there were about 30 or 40 members in the high school orchestra and the third-grade string program, founded by Nancy Beacham, was in its ninth year.
“The (orchestra) program began to grow and continues to grow to this day,” he said.
“I know that the board has proposed the reduction in teaching staff in areas that don’t have the population to support staff. But the orchestra program shows growth,” Muise said.
“Each student who participates in our program elects to be there. It is clear to the music teachers by the long lines of parents at rental night and the standing-room only at concerts that music is a beloved activity in our community,” he said.
The school board will begin budget deliberations at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Mt. Blue Middle School cafeteria. A districtwide referendum vote will be held in May.
Comments can be sent to the Superintendent’s Office at 115 Learning Lane, Farmington, ME. 04938, or posted on the Mt. Blue Regional School District’s Web site at www.mtbluersd.org.
The Facebook page can be found by searching for “Save Mt. Blue Music.”