Winona area schools target arts and hockey in cuts

School officials in the Winona, Minn., area are taking an ax to the school budget and, not surprisingly, the arts are being targeted. The arts have a tough time in schools anymore.

When it comes to the arts, life imitates.

The district is proposing $1.7 million in budget cuts and the plan is the elimination of music lessons, theater productions and arts staff, the Winona Daily News reports.

The music and theater kids are putting up a fight, as most music and theater kids do in these situations.

“Music impacts people’s lives extremely. If you take the core pieces away, like rehearsals or staff, it will all collapse like Jenga. Don’t take away that Jenga piece,” sophomore Nicole Banicki told the school board last night during a listening session.

The district has already rescinded a plan to cut all music programs, but it still intends to torch the fourth grade orchestra and eliminate two or three staff positions in the music department, which will probably eliminate music lessons, according to one teacher.

Several students who turned out Tuesday said music lessons are the best part of their day. Lessons can be a sanctuary during tough times, they said, and the release of playing an instrument helps them stay engaged in other classes.

“No matter how badly I did on that test, or how badly I’m doing in another class, music gives me a moment to relax and have fun,” said junior Abigail Thiele, who’s in band and choir.

Malachi Draper, another student, said music makes him feel human.

And Sayna Parsi, who attends Winona State University, said music helped her fit in and feel at home when she first came to the school district.

“When I moved here in fourth grade, I didn’t really know English,” she said. “I only made friends through music.”

“There’s almost nothing you could do that would convince me not to enroll my kids in public school,” one parent said. “Gutting music might be one of them.”

The district is considering closing several schools and its plan still includes eliminating the hockey program for boys and girls or cutting the girls’ program for just one year. It says it wouldn’t be a Title IX violation because so few girls are interested in playing.

The cuts (available here) could also include the elimination of a school safety officer, and increased fees for sports.

They’ll be finalized next week.

  • DocRoss

    Unconscionable. Education in the arts and humanities enables students to learn to think
    and dream for themselves. It empowers them to imagine a better world.

    When we neglect to educate our children to be fully human–that means education in the arts, humanities and yes, sports–we are condemning the entire society to a bleak future where the wealthy and powerful become ever more wealthy and powerful, and the vast majority are consigned to lives as servants of them.

    Free public education for all is one of the cornerstones of democracy and this country. Gutting public education in this way undermines everything this country stands for.

  • >>School officials in the Winona, Minn., area are taking an ax to the school budget and, not surprisingly, the arts are being targeted.<<

  • emersonpie

    Last year district residents turned down an $82 million referendum by a 90-10%vote. Voters opposed closing some neighborhood elementary schools, although they were made aware of budget problems looming. The more I read about this, the more it seems as though the district is punishing the community for turning down the referendum. District officials and community members have a lot of work to do if they really care about their kids.

    • A few years from now the elderly population of Winona will wonder why young people didn’t stay in the area to raise their families.

      • Erick

        I was close to moving to the Winona area back when my kids were young. I initially thought that with so many colleges the town must support the public schools. Wrong. The parochial system siphoned off so many kids that the public schools could not get the funding they needed. Figuring that out kept me in Minneapolis and made me very skeptical of vouchers and charter schools and other schemes to weaken the public schools.

    • >> The more I read about this, the more it seems as though the district is punishing the community for turning down the referendum. <<

      If they don't have the $$, they can't continue certain programs and more often than not, it's the arts that get slashed.

      • emersonpie

        But would a 3 or 5% cut across all departments get your attention?

  • Mike Worcester

    Arts programs — theatre, debate, speech, music, et al — are not revenue generators. They simply can’t support themselves. News flash though — neither do pretty much all of the athletics. With the exceptions of football, boys basketball, hockey in certain areas, and wrestling in certain areas. What remains does not produce much, if any, revenue. (Which makes it interesting that the district is looking at hockey as an elimination; it’s an expensive activity even when you consider how much booster clubs contribute also.)

    • Angry Jonny

      Arts programs are part of school curriculum. Football, basketball, hockey and other extracurricular sports aren’t. Continuing to prop up extracurricular activities at the expense of music and arts curriculum is BS, pure and simple. Revenue generators be damned.

  • nickinmn

    This has been ongoing in Winona for many decades, very dysfunctional leadership and school board. The most recent former superintendent resigned over multiple plagiarism instances (including his doctoral dissertation and district technology plan!).

    Historically Winonan’s have supported most school levy’s, but in this case the school board went against the task force (teachers, staff, parents, community members) recommendations with the levy proposal. The school board itself was split on moving forward with the ballot initiative 4-3. The 82 million dollar funding increase was estimated to have decreased facility costs by 1.1 million/ year, it was a pretty hard sell.

    What upsets me about the music staff comparison with other districts is
    they are looking only at total school enrollment, not music
    participation. I am also disappointed by how much technology expenses
    goes into computer equipment (which had no proposed cuts) but I get that “one-to-one” programs are all the rage.

    I also dislike that the school board proposal kept Rollingstone open (unlike the task force recommendation)– I get that the school is the center of Rollingstone, but to keep an elementary school with ~70 students when Altura elementary is ~8 miles away and Winona is ~10 miles away hardly seems prudent.

  • Angry Jonny

    Instead of having band, theater, and arts booster clubs, why don’t we divert administrative salaries to those teachers, and make the superintendents raise their own salary funds by selling chocolate bars?