Members of the Women’s Chorus showed up to sing for Fulton’s Board of Education this week. The song they sung: “Don’t Stop The Music”.
Then they asked the board to avoid making cuts that would stop their music.
Fulton, like most school districts in the state, is struggling with a difficult budget. Governor Cuomo’s proposed state budget cuts aid to schools. Fulton will lose more than $2 million, creating a gap of $5.5 million in its budget.
One or two music teaching positions are among the 17.4 staff positions identified for cuts in the 2011-12 budget, which would fill $1.7 million of the deficit.
One position would be left empty when longtime music teacher Dolores Walrath retires at the end of the school year. A second position could also be cut.
“If this cut were to be realized,” music department facilitator Debra Farden told the board, “this wonderful women’s chorus that you just heard could be dissolved.”
Losing one position, she said, “wounds our program”, while a second lost position “could cripple our orchestra program.”
Members of the chorus then stepped to the microphone.
Chorus member Haley Noel said that the chorus was her only outlet for expressing herself. Without it, “more kids would turn to drugs and tattoos and all the negative ways to express yourself. If kids didn’t have [music] then there would be more violence in our town.”
“Please, please keep the full music program in our schools,” pleaded Vanessa Langdon. “This is happening to make up for irresponsible spending we had nothing to do with,” added Eva Jones.
“In your positions of power,” said Jones, “you ultimately hold our voices.”
No one is happy abut making cuts, said board President Robbin Griffin. “We always wanted to build a program that encompassed all areas,” she said. “It’s going to take a miracle for us to find the resources” to keep those programs.
Board members later reviewed a second draft of the budget.
With a proposed tax levy increase of 4% now factored in, the budget remains more than $600,000 short of balanced.
Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch said he was optimistic that the state Legislature would restore some school aid funds.
Among the possible ways to fill the remaining gap, Lynch said, would be to cut more than the $50,000 already proposed to be cut from the athletics budget, more cuts in software purchases, and the possible elimination of the district’s successful alternative education program, which would trim $300,000 all by itself.
The program brings together students who can’t be educated in the traditional school setting and has been credited with helping many troubled students to stay in school and graduate.
The program would be reduced to its legal minimum — working with students who need to be educated out of school for disciplinary or medical reasons.
“It is tough to sit up here and talk about these things we’ve been building and see them fade away,” said board member Robert Ireland. “My hope is it’s temporary.”
“Truly, we feel your pain in our hearts,” board member Rosemary Occhino said to the chorus members. “We hate to do what we have to do, but we have no choice.”