I still remember my elementary school’s music teacher, Mr. Spence. A lanky man with dark-rimmed eyeglasses and an eternal 5 o’clock shadow, Mr. Spence taught my classmates and me about woodwinds, brasses, treble clefts, bass clefts and more in our northeast Florida classroom. While in class, we memorized songs like “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Dixie Land,” songs that for some reason I still can hum the chorus to.
I’d be lying if I said he left an indelible mark in my musical education — I’ll credit my piano teacher, Bronia Kimmel, for that — but what he did show me was the music has an incredible impact on a child’s development.
Sadly, it was announced last week that at least 12 Broward County public schools have been asked to further cut their budget on arguably the most influential school subjects: music, art and physical education. A recent Sun Sentinel article by Akilah Johnson says the teachers at these 12+ schools are given a choice: either take a 50 percent salary cut or find a job elsewhere.
Florida public school teachers and journalists have something in common: We knew ahead of time that we weren’t going into our respective profession to make our millions. And now, these already severely underpaid professors in art, music and PE are being asked to accept a horribly unjustified figure — and live on it.
As a child, I sometimes forgot Mr. Spence was a person. I mean, I held him and all my other teachers — Ms. Coursey the art teacher, and Ms. Eicorn and Ms. Woolwine the PE teachers — to another level, a level that took them out of the category of a regular person. I forgot they had families, loved ones, and needed to take care of them. To me, they did a great job, and I forgot part of the contract was to get financially compensated in order to live comfortably.
It was also announced last week that Broward County schools were facing up to a $130 million budgetary shortfall. Sad, huh? That means our kids’ education is getting $130 million less than it did previously.
The article also says that while the district did require all area schools to trim their budgets down by 6 percent, it was up to the individual schools to determine how exactly that figure was met. And, for the principals at these 12+ schools, the decision came down to art, music and PE.
I can’t imagine what it’s like being a principal faced with the decision on what (and who) to cut. I’d like to think that the principals don’t want to reduce these programs. But unfortunately, Broward County isn’t the only county in the country faced with this issue. Unfortunately, there’s thousands of Mr. Spences out there who perhaps wish they decided to find interest in a science or math subject in order to have some fighting chance to stay in the school system. I, for one, don’t want the music to stop playing.