June 3, 2013 6:06 pm
Updated: June 4, 2013 9:01 pm

TDSB proposed music program cuts – whose line is it anyway?

Strings instructor David Spek outside Keele St. Public School, with his viola. He is spearheading effort to save music teacher jobs at TDSB, board issuing layoff notices Thursday.

Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Toronto – The Toronto District School Board is poised to finalize $2-million in cuts that would eliminate music programs across the city.

Trustees vote on the cuts, designed to help bridge a $27-million deficit, June 19.

But news of the pending losses has students, parents and instructors up in arms.

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“These cuts are going to be very damaging to the music programs,” David Spek, a music instructor of 18 years and creator of the online petition “Stop the Itinerant Music Program cuts in the Toronto District School Board”, told Global News in a phone interview.

“We should not be reducing ourselves to the lowest denominator of education in the province.”

Trustees are also divided: In a media release, TDSB Trustee Chris Glover expressed his opposition to the cuts, stating that “if the provincial advisors at the TDSB can’t find another way to balance the budget, then we need to speak directly to the provincial government because they are the ones who control the funding.”

The proposal would eliminate roughly 23 part-time instructors from grades 1 to 6. The elementary-school classes include instructions in recorder, Orff and vocal training. It would also reduce the amount of time spent on teaching kids in grades 5-8 how to play strings, band, and steel pan.

“There are a lot of people who benefit from specialized music instructors. It’s different from every [other] subject” says student trustee Kourosh Houshmand.

Ryan Hawken, a Grade 10 student in the Claude Watson arts program at Earl Haig Secondary School, also expressed his concern. “The itinerant music instructors were such a key part of my development. They gave me a passion to explore countless opportunities. [The Itinerant Music Program] has changed the overall course of my life.”

The cuts will also eliminate instructors who trained teaching staff; teachers will be required to seek additional training on the side. Teachers will have to voluntarily sign up for additional qualification training – either half-day sessions during the school year or during the summer months – and pay for it themselves. Their musical training is currently paid for by the board.

The TDSB is making the cuts before they have the solution in place” Spek said.

Board spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said the cut won’t affect most schools.

“We have [itinerant music instructors] that work in about 150 of our schools, but we have 474 elementary schools. We deliver a music curriculum to all our schools and students through teachers. We will continue to have music.” Schwartz-Maltz said.

“IMIs work alongside teachers, [but] they aren’t teachers. Our intention is to offer additional professional development to our teachers who want additional music instruction.”

The instructors “enhance the program, but we deliver music curriculum to our students” she concluded.

Ten years ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne, then a trustee and member of the Toronto Parent Network, opposed similar cuts. This past Monday, a press conference held at Queen’s Park urged her to intervene.  They also asked her to do a full external audit of education funding in the province.

“If there was fat to be cut, it was cut a long time ago. And the cuts are now getting to limbs,” said board trustee Judy Gargaro.

“There should be designated protected funding so that the instrumental music part of the curriculum can be properly delivered across all Ontario.”

Gargaro believes in the strength of IMI’s skills, stating that “it is necessary to have their specialized training to deliver the curriculum in a cost efficient way.”

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