Deficit may mean end for band, languages

Stephanie Chen

Band and foreign language programs may be cut in Evanston elementary and middle schools in order to make up for an anticipated $2 million budget deficit.

Members of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board said Monday that they would discuss proposals later in the week, one of which could eliminate the in-school fourth- and fifth-grade band programs and middle school foreign language classes.

More than 40 faculty members, teachers, parents and community members applauded Monday night as Oakton Elementary School band teacher Margaret Philbrick expressed her frustration with the proposal.

“You’re disenfranchising the students and parents of Evanston that are paying high taxes for a mediocre program,” Philbrick said.

The proposal would make in-school instrumental classes, which serve 725 fourth- and fifth-graders, into an after-school activity, Philbrick said. This would mean that eight full-time and four part-time music teachers would lose their jobs.

School board President Mary Rita Luecke said the board has not yet decided how to handle the estimated $2 million deficit for the 2004-05 fiscal year. In March the district sent letters to 70 teachers and social workers whose jobs may be cut for budget reasons.

Proposed cuts will be considered during a public forum at the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

“We just need to think as creatively as we can on ways we can cut the budget,” Luecke said.

Teachers are tired of hearing rumors about which programs would be cut without clear answers, said Gail Kelly, a Haven Middle School family and consumer science teacher, whose program may be cut.

“Once the class is gone, practically, it will never return,” Kelly said. “Every student has the right to a well-rounded education.”

If the instrumental music program becomes an after-school activity, students will be less likely to participate, said Teresa Morris, a fourth grade teacher at Dodge Elementary School. The current program runs once a week for 30 minutes.

Philbrick added that students who have conflicting after-school activities or who can’t afford private lessons might not participate.

At the middle school level, teachers also protested the idea of cutting foreign language. Clare Delgado, a foreign language teacher at Evanston Township High School and parent of two children in D65, said ETHS’ language program would suffer if students did not have a background from middle school.

“This only exacerbates the haves and have-nots,” she said.

Delgado said other area schools are adding foreign languages at the elementary school levels, while Evanston is considering cuts.

Patricia Plunkett, a teacher in D65, said the board should be making administrative cuts instead of eliminating teachers.

“We are paying a ridiculous amount of money for administrators,” she said. “I don’t see how they can suggest teachers’ cuts without taking a big pay cut themselves.”

But Luecke said administrative spending in D65 is lower than in most area schools. She said the district will need to find other ways to keep the budget in line with the expenses.

School board member Mary Erickson said the upcoming cuts will not be easy because all the programs are valuable.

“We have a longer way to go than we thought with the cuts,” she said.

Also at the meeting Monday, the board voted to set aside 20 percent of kindergarten admissions to Timber Ridge School — a magnet school — for students who live nearby.