Local dad fights against cuts to music

He proposes a protest against STAR testing at CUSD

AMERICAN DAD <br>Dan Goodson sits in his family’s jam room with two of his sons, Evan and Sawyer, who are in the band Jet Fuel Only. Goodson views music as therapy for his kids—Sawyer is autistic and Evan has a speech impediment—as well as a critical part of their education.

Dan Goodson sits in his family’s jam room with two of his sons, Evan and Sawyer, who are in the band Jet Fuel Only. Goodson views music as therapy for his kids—Sawyer is autistic and Evan has a speech impediment—as well as a critical part of their education.

Photo by meredith j. cooper

Cutting out music in schools is like denying children one of the things that make us human, according to Dan Goodson. “Music has given my kids access to life,” he said from the recording studio/jam room in his family’s home in the Avenues. “We take it very seriously.”

So when Goodson heard that Chico Unified School District might make further cuts to music education (the strings program, classroom music and elementary school band have already fallen by the wayside), he got piping mad and decided he had to do something about it. His plan: to convince likeminded parents to opt their children out of the statewide STAR testing that takes place next month.

“I know some people are going to say that by opting out of STAR testing we’re going to damage the district,” said Goodson, who sent out a mass e-mail to parents on Monday (March 16), calling his protest the “STAR revolt.” “But if we don’t stop this, the damage is done.”

Goodson spoke with the enthusiasm of a parent with three kids in the district—one at Chapman Elementary, one at Chico Junior High and another at Chico High.

Chicoans may recognize the two elder sons from their rock band, Jet Fuel Only, which has graced the pages of People magazine and appeared on The Rachael Ray Show in January. Music has proven to be therapy for the Goodson children, two of whom are autistic.

“If this will get them [the district] to think about this for a second, it’s worth it,” Goodson said. Because the tests focus only on academic subjects, music and fine art are often considered throw-away subjects, but that’s faulty logic, he said. “Music teaches the meaning of life: If you practice, you get better. It makes people better citizens.”

According to Superintendent Kelly Staley, Goodson’s effort is admirable—she doesn’t want to cut music, either—but it won’t work, and it has the potential to hurt the district even more.

“Chico Unified is a negative-certified district. We don’t have that say [over funding],” she said. “Even if we wanted to be able to take all that money and put it back into music, we couldn’t.”

Pulling kids out of STAR testing could result in even less control over curriculum because the district is already in what’s called “program improvement” status.

She explained she had heard of similar STAR protests in other districts actually swaying the board into giving money back to music and the arts. “What might have worked somewhere else will not work here—it will not work in a negative-certified district.”

The changes proposed include two completely different cuts. The first would be to “prep time” teachers in grades K-6, who teach music, art and physical education. The second and more substantial would come in the form of grant money earmarked for the art, music and PE programs. It’s these grant funds—totaling about $1 million—that have gotten Goodson all hot and bothered.

The grants, awarded to the district starting with the 2007-08 school year, include a one-time lump sum of $866,632 and an ongoing amount of $212,901 per year. But because there was no time limit set on the funds, the district chose to freeze them rather than spend them when they became available. Then in February, when Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the state budget, those funds became eligible for allocation to other purposes. (The lump sum can be moved over as is, but the ongoing funds will take a hit—the district will receive only about $170,000 a year if the money is not used for art, music and PE.)

The school board will be presented with the proposal to move those funds—along with a list of other changes to be published Friday—at its meeting Wednesday (March 25). Unfortunately, explained Staley, the board doesn’t have much say in the matter, either—it’s really up to Sheila Vickers, the district’s financial adviser, who has already recommended the changes.

“Frankly, if it’s a situation that would cause financial harm to the district, the financial adviser has stay-and-rescind power over the board,” Staley said. “She can say, ‘The decision you’re making is putting the district at risk of a state takeover.’ ”

STAR testing is a whole other monster.

According to federal guidelines, schools must provide test results for 95 percent of their students. If scores are very low, or not enough people take the test, schools face sanctions, explained Mike Morris, district director of instructional support and testing. With CUSD already in “program improvement,” that would mean more oversight from outside entities and more stringent curriculum guidelines.

Jan Combes, assistant superintendent for business, said CUSD administrators are “really concerned about that [STAR revolt] because it pushes the district further into sanctions. It will make things worse for the district; not better. We’d like to give up doing all this testing, but it’s sort of like shooting the problem in the foot.”

Goodson expected resistance to his plan of attack. But he’s also gotten a lot of support, he said, from likeminded parents who see value in music education.

“This town is the most amazing place in the world. The music, the art …” said Goodson, a former commercial airline pilot. “We can’t allow the school district to destroy the things that make this town amazing.”

District folks agree, but don’t see any alternative.

“I think music programs are crucial for our children so that they have a well-balanced educational program,” said Carolyn Adkisson, CUSD’s director of curriculum and instruction. “And I feel that way for art, for PE, for all the curriculum areas. All of the cuts that we are looking at—program changes—none of them are any changes that we are happy about, that we really want to do.”

According to Bob Feaster, assistant superintendent for human resources, getting rid of prep-time teachers—specialists who come in to the schools to teach art, music and PE—will not necessarily eliminate those subjects from the curriculum. “It would be done by classroom teachers,” he said. “But they obviously can’t teach instruments if they don’t know how to play.”

The decision to cut prep-time teachers is on the bargaining table with the Chico Unified Teachers Association. If approved, it would eliminate about 20 full-time-equivalent positions.

Goodson understands that the humanities are always the first to be cut, especially when times get tough. He understands the bind the district is in as far as money and having to make deep cuts. But he doesn’t understand why music is considered expendable, except that schools have to do well on standardized tests—and tests don’t assess knowledge of music.

“Because of our education system, we were the envy of the world 40 years ago,” Goodson said, looking at a stand-up bass his son Evan borrowed from Chico Junior High. “Back then, this instrument was being used. This instrument made them better at math and English. And it made them better people.”