Battista brings back fifth-grade band

Interim Superintendent John Battista found the funds to save the fifth-grade music program.

Battista announced the resurrection of the program to the Board of Education on July 17.

He said that he was able to save the program after a few staff members unexpectedly retired.

The fifth-grade band and orchestra had been cut from the budget under former Superintendent Jim Agostine to save $76,000.

Last month the Board of Education reluctantly voted in favor of cutting fifth-grade band and orchestra during their vote on the budget cuts despite parent pleas to keep the program.

Board of Education Chair, Donna Lane said she understands the parent’s reluctance to cut fifth- grade band and orchestra.

“We hear you. We don’t want to make the cuts to fifth-grade music,” Lane said during the June 5 meeting. “We have very difficult cuts to make, none of them are good cuts — there are no easy cuts.”

Desire for program

Jack Zamary, the interim assistant superintendent, said the district conducted a survey for parents of incoming fifth-grade students to see how interested people were in having a fifth- grade band program, which received 110 responses. Of those that responded to the survey, 85% of families said they wanted to enroll their children in the band program, with 62% stating they would have their child join the band and 38% would want to enroll their child in the strings program.

“The response is very, very strong,” Zamary said.

The survey also asked parents if they would put their child in the music program if it was pay-to-play with a $175 cost and 71% of parents said they would still enroll their children in the program.

Finding the funds

“I believe that these programs are important,” Battista said. “Some kids come to school because they love band, because they love strings, because they love sports, so we really looked at a way to not have to do pay-for-play.”

Battista said that he was able to reinstate the program after the district made an estimated $68,000 in savings from contract negotiations and a late retirement.

“With those savings we believe that we can put together a fifth-grade strings and program for our students,” he said. “It won’t be the same, it will be different from what we had this year.”

Battista also said that if the state doesn’t cut the town as severely as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget suggested and the town provides the district with a portion of the $1-million contingency than the he could revisit the music program’s funding.

“Right now we’re going to be able to have a strings and band fifth-grade program that offers students instruction in that area,” he said. “With these savings if you approve us to hire a music person for the district that will help with fifth grade band and strings then we are going to have a program for our students and that’s what’s really important.”

Battista said that the classes at the elementary schools would be staggered “so they will start earlier and end earlier” to allow time for a strings program in the morning. He said this program was previously stipended but this year it would not be. There would be a morning strings program for Stepney Elementary and Fawn Hollow Elementary and during the first part of the day at Monroe Elementary. Battista said some of the lessons would occur during school hours.

Battista also promised the board that if they allow him to hire a music teacher for the fifth-grade music program that he would look into improving music education for the district’s K-12 students.

“We want to use this as an opportunity,” he said.

The discussion

Board of Education chair, Donna Lane said she was pleased to hear that Battista found a way to fund the fifth-grade music program.

“I think this is a great opportunity to get it back and to show that we are committed to it [music],” she said.

During the conversation, Board of Education member David Ferris asked if the newly found $68,000 would be better served somewhere else, stating that he supports funding the the fifth- grade music program, but that he wanted to make sure priority items are funded first.

“We’re lucky that we found this,” he said, “Is this where we want to put it or is there something else?”

Lane and Battista said that the parents had been vocal about the importance of the fifth-grade music program and that they feel it would be best to hire someone for this position.

The board unanimously voted in favor of hiring a music teacher to reinstate the fifth-grade band and strings program.

About author
TinaMarie Craven is the Arts & Leisure editor. She previously worked as the editor of the Monroe Courier and the Lewisboro Ledger. She graduated from Ithaca College with a BA in Journalism and Politics in 2015.

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