School board reinstates strings program

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FARMINGTON – The outpouring of community support made through phone calls, letters and e-mails to directors of the Mt. Blue Regional School District to save the threatened third-grade string program has paid off.

On Tuesday night, the board voted to reinstate the strings teaching position that had been slated to be eliminated in the 2010-11 proposed budget and would have delayed the start of the innovative, two-decades old program that puts a violin into the hands of every third-grader.

During the discussion, Music Department Director Carol Shumway was near tears when she presented a list of drastic cuts that she and her colleagues were offering to make to come up with the nearly $31,000 for the position.

“What a relief,” she said after the vote. “It was the community that saved the program.”

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Cuts in the Music Department proposed by the board include instrument repair, technology, supplies, dues and fees for students to attend regional music events. Those cuts will be discussed in the ongoing budget review that will continue Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mt. Blue Middle School. The board will also consider where the money will be found for the reinstated position.

“Our goal was to save our teachers and we were willing to give up everything,” Shumway said.

Among the reductions she proposed was to have parents transport students and music ensembles to performance venues and to regional and state music festivals at a savings of $4,370 over three years. Another suggestion was to put the department’s repair budget of $7,230 toward the position and to ask parents to pay a $50 instrumental repair fee for all student musicians using school-owned instruments. Consideration would have been made to low-income families.

The district will not have to resort to those cuts now that the board restored the position now shared by Steve Muise and Nancy Beacham.

In the entire budget, 12 teaching positions are proposed to be cut, including the drafting teacher at Foster Technology Center, two elementary school foreign language teachers, the Chinese language program and the middle school general music program. Other reductions are in some athletic programs at the middle school and high school; health, library, and technology programs; and some teacher stipends for clubs and student programs.

The school board is reviewing a proposed $22 million budget that is $1.5 million less than was raised in 2009-10 and reflects a loss of $1.6 million in state aid. Deep cuts are proposed in programs, operations and supplies across the board.

The motion to reinstate the third-grade strings program was made by Wilton board member Keith Swett. He suggested taking the money needed from either the district’s contingency fund or from the administration account.

Board member Paul Druan of Weld calculated that if 140 people each donated $50, the $7,000 raised nearly would cover the cost of instrument repair.

Druan committed to making the first donation of $50.

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