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Katonah-Lewisboro School Board Restores Music Funding, Delays Cuts Decision

Jack Freudenheim Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Peter Treyz Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Carmen Delessio Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. -- Katonah-Lewisboro's school board recently voted to restore funding for a part-time elementary school music position for the district's proposed budget after residents blasted contemplated cuts to instructional time.

The position is 0.6 of a full-time equivalent (FTE). It is worth $53,404, Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Jumper said.

With restoration of the job, the total spending proposed for the 2015-16 school year, which is subject to voter approval on May 19, is now $108,731,720. This represents a 2.19-percent decrease in spending, Jumper noted.

The position would be paid for with fund balance instead of through the property tax levy. This means that the restored funding will not affect the tax numbers for the budget.

The board's March 26 vote was unanimous.

The proposed related cuts involve reducing general-music time for fourth and fifth graders, it was noted. The restoration of the funding does not mean that the cuts will be reversed, however, as the school board opted to give district staffers more time to figure out an alternative solution.

Speaking after the meeting, Interim Superintendent John Goetz expressed a willingness to have music faculty included in the input process. Some speakers argued that not all stakeholders were included in the decision-making process for the proposed cuts.

The intention behind the cuts was to give more instructional time for general-education programming, which was alluded to repeatedly during the board's meeting.

Critical speakers included current and former Katonah-Lewisboro parents.

“Cutting general music for fourth and fifth graders will change that curriculum and eliminate meaningful studies and valued grade-level experiences," said Susan Polos, a former district parent who is also an educator in the Bedford Central School District. "This decision is a quick fix which causes more problems than it solves.”

Katonah's Deirdre Courtney-Batson, a college professor and former district parent, argued that music also has academic value.

“When students are learning guitar chords, they’re learning about numerical relationships and they’re also training their brains to recognize patterns."

Elementary school parent Jack Freudenheim worried that ensemble faculty would wind up having to take over general-music teaching. He also noted a petition against the cutting that garnered 500 signatures.

Carmen Delessio, also an elementary school parent, argued that the board should not make the cuts before incoming Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, who starts in July, takes over.

“Why should a new superintendent have to walk into a controversy?”

Prior to their votes, some board trustees voiced support for making sure that general-education time is not undermined.

Trustee William Rifkin addressed the finite scheduling time in a class day and added that if something else was was cut - he cited gym as an example - then there would be similar public opposition.

“I suspect that we’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

Trustee Peter Treyz took issue with people who only show up to board meetings when a specific issue concerns them. He urged community members to get more involved and to attend board meetings more often.

“We should have 30 people at every school board meeting."

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