Cuts in language, arts draw fire


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The Iowa City School District will say auf Wiedersehen to several programs starting next year.

Students in the Iowa City School District will no longer have the option to learn how to play the violin in fourth grade or to speak German because of budget cuts throughout the district.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board approved the budget for fiscal 2015, completing the plan with budget cuts totaling $3.6 million.

“This is designed to stabilize our budget, so this is the [lowest] amount we can do,” said Superintendent Steve Murley, who officially approved the cuts.

The proposal would, among other things, eliminate fourth-grade orchestra programs, general music programs in junior high, all German language programs, all seventh-grade language programs, and the increase in class sizes across the board.

One after another, community members stepped up to the microphone for more than 30 minutes to demand a change when it came to music and language programs.

“Any cuts to culture, arts, and language programs are not going to have the desired effects,” said Iowa City community member Ulrike Carlson. “It’s going to make us worse as a School District … which means doors will close for students in the future.”

Cutting and reducing language programs would save the district $124,000 through the high schools and $239,000 from the junior highs.

Murley said students currently enrolled in German courses will have the ability to progress through the language, but level one will not be offered in coming years.

Carlson said these cuts would “impoverish” the district, because language and the arts are key to many aspects of successful learning and life.

“It removes an ability to understand culture,” she said. “It’s not only about speaking, it’s about understanding another culture, about enlarging our narrow view of the world.”

She said although she is upset about the cut of the German program, she is also unhappy with suggestion that teaching language skills should begin in the eighth grade.

“In order to learn a language, you need a lot of time and [the U.S.] already starts late,” she said, noting that learning a language late in life causes difficulty with interest and retention.

Stephanie Dotzel, the orchestra director at Northwest Junior High, said beginning music earlier has positive effects with concentration, teamwork, and discipline.

“It’s like a language,” she said. “Music is a language, and the earlier you start, the more you can wrap it around the child.”

Dotzel was one of many speakers who also had similar sentiments about why music should not be a part of the cuts.

Elimination of general music courses in the junior highs will save the district $90,000. These courses are available for students who do not choose to enroll in band, orchestra, or choir. Budget cuts for music in the elementary schools will result savings of $444,000. The “restructuring” of the system will mean music programs will begin in fifth grade.

Many speakers noted that a cut in fourth-grade orchestra programs would create a gap between the students who could afford private lessons and those who could not, creating a socioeconomic issue.

Dotzel said although she does not have a perfect solution, these changes to the arts and languages should not be considered as a possibility.

“I think those cuts need to be as far away from the classroom as possible,” she said.

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