School district's decision to cut elementary music irks parents

The South Washington County School District, which includes Woodbury and Cottage Grove, made cuts last month because of financial challenges caused by the pandemic, but some parents in the district are questioning the decisions.

The cuts will remove the fourth and fifth-grade orchestra and band program from the elementary school.

"They’re taking away programs for kids," Orchestra Booster President John Bergquist said.

Band Booster President Jen Sommerness, who has three students in the district, is saddened by the decision. 

"They were very concerned that their youngest brother is not going to get the same experience they had and their experience has been incredible music," Sommerness said. "The first grader doesn’t understand it right now, but he does know that he already wants to play an instrument."

Bergquist says his family chose to move into District #833 because of its music program.

"My daughter, a soon-to-be fifth grader at that time, wanted to play the cello," Bergquist said. "We would not be in this district if it weren’t for elementary music."

Parents fear the move will have a domino effect on the quality of middle and high school music too.

"If they’re playing at a fifth-grade level as an eighth grader, an eighth grader has enough self-awareness to recognize that he or she is not very good," Bergquist said.

Parents even raised $3,600 on GoFundMe to hire a consultant for a 75-page research report on why the music should play on. The report claims cuts will cost the district more money in the long run, by causing the collapse of the high school music program and forcing the district to hire more teachers after that happens.

School board chair Tracy Brunette declined an interview, but sent the following statement:

"Like many metro school districts, South Washington County Schools administration has made adjustments to the delivery of elementary band and orchestra. This change was part of a larger budget package approved by the School Board on Jan. 21 for the 2021-22 school year. Unfortunately, this was just one of many cuts required due to additional budgetary challenges amid COVID-19 and uncertainty in state aid.

"We value music education and elementary students will continue to have music instruction two days a week next school year. Administration has put together an internal working group to gather feedback from teachers, staff and families to look at additional and equitable music opportunities for elementary students with the resources we have."