The worst cuts are the deepest

When it comes to balancing the state’s budget, politicians offer the same old song and dance: Cut music and arts programs

For more information, visit the Sacramento City Unified School District Web site at and the Davis Joint Unified School District at To find out how you can help save the music programs in Davis, go to

This could be the year the music died. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are singing the same sad song: Where have all the good times gone? The budget is off-key by $17 billion, and to harmonize revenues and expenses, the tax-averse governor proposes cutting $4.8 billion, or 10 percent, from education funds statewide. That could mean curtains for public-school music programs across the state.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind’s focus on test scores in math, science and language arts, music programs and other artistic courses are the first items on the budget chopping block. Sacramento County alone faces cuts of $85 million for the 2008–09 school year, while Yolo County is struggling with a $4.6 million cut from its funds. That means substantially more students will miss out on the creative and performing arts.

“The No Child Left Behind program has impacted the arts,” said George Miles, band director for John F. Kennedy High School’s band and marching band. “Students who receive low test scores are often denied elective classes and given more reading or math classes instead. We used to talk about educating the whole child. Now, in meetings, we talk about getting better test scores to meet our AYP, or adequate yearly progress.”

The district’s middle schools face the deepest cuts.

“The major problem is that the [Sacramento City Unified School] district wants to cut six middle-school positions,” said Lenny Pollacchi, music specialist for SCUSD’s Music Library. “We cannot figure out how the remaining four teachers are supposed to teach the 10 middle schools.”

Cutting middle-school programs, which serve as feeders to local high-school music programs, could be devastating, said Lynette Chertorisky, fifth-grade teacher and coordinator of the band program at Matsuyama Elementary.

“If music programs were eliminated from the middle-school level, my students would not have the opportunity to continue the skills they have begun.”

Meanwhile, Davis Joint Unified School District is cutting its music programs at the elementary-school level. Angelo Moreno, director of the DJUSD secondary orchestral program, said that just as in Sacramento, cutting feeder schools could result in a disastrous domino effect on upper-level programs. Currently, the music program serves over 2,000 students from the elementary-school level to the high-school level.

“The elementary program is at the highest it’s ever been,” Moreno said. “And now they’re going to cut it at its peak.”

Davis is cutting programs across the board, not just music or libraries. Nevertheless, the cuts in both districts mean fewer students will enjoy a well-rounded education, explained Scott Leigh, executive director of the Sacramento Youth Symphony.

“Music education helps form the character of a human being,” Leigh said. “Music enriches the deepest part of a person’s core. These pieces of music are intended to change a person to where they have a greater appreciation for themselves, life and the beauty that surrounds them. Music can either change you for good or for ill. Listening to the classics may, and often will, make you into a better person.”

Kennedy High band director Miles concurs.

“For so many of our students, it is the bright spot in their day where they can be creative,” he said.