Cincinnati Enquirer’s Michael D. Clark reports:
Despite high notes in recent years that include performing in California’s Rose Parade and last week at a prestigious music event in Chicago, Lakota Schools’ band programs may be headed for a downbeat next year due to pending budget cuts.
The heralded band and orchestra programs at both Lakota high schools may be targeted soon in another round of budget cuts as part of $9 million in planned reductions for the financially struggling school system.
This school year already saw elimination of sixth-grade music education classes, a loss that staffers say will have repercussions for years as students are delayed from matriculating through Lakota’s bands and orchestras.
“My biggest worry is how many seventh-graders will not sign up for band next year and if they do, how far behind will they be,” says Lakota West High School band director Greg Snyder.
On Jan. 1, 2008, Snyder led the marching Firebirds of Lakota West High School, one of the largest bands in Southwest Ohio, as they earned the distinction of being the first from this region to perform in the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
Later that year, the Lakota East High School band performed during parades and memorial services in Hawaii marking the anniversary of the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lakota’s music programs and its wide travel have attracted fund-raising support and special public performances in its schools by both the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Ballet.
Just last week, Lakota West’s band earned kudos from music directors from around the world during its performance at the internationally attended Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago.
Only five high schools nationally are invited each year to perform there and it was Lakota West’s third appearance since 2000.
“Unfortunately, this (recent) performance may signal the end of the world famous band program at Lakota,” wrote Lakota resident and longtime band supporter Gary McClimans.
Despite cutting millions of dollars in recent years from Greater Cincinnati’s second largest school system, Lakota officials have seen voters reject three proposed operating tax hikes in the last three years while a looming budget shortfall grows.
Lakota’s annual operating budget is about $154 million and the district faces a $14.1 million projected budget deficit in 2015 without voter approval of a new operating tax.
The pending $9 million in cuts comprise about 6 percent of the district’s budget.
The deep budget cuts to date – more than $25 million – have already eliminated dozens of teaching jobs. Those include about half of the music instructors at the junior and senior high schools, many student programs and busing for thousands of students.
Lakota officials will try to win over voters again in 2012 during either the August or November elections.
But prior to going back on the ballot district officials have said another $9 million must be sliced in personnel and programs, possibly from the music programs.
“As Lakota moves ahead with the process of addressing our financial situation,’’ said Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia, “we understand the concerns of students and their families who are involved with our bands and other music programs. They are deeply committed to these programs. But across the district, other students and families are concerned about how we will fund their programs as well.”
District officials are reviewing possible budget reductions for 2012-13 but the proposed reductions will not be ready to present to the school board for months.
They did not respond to requests seeking information on the total number of students participating currently, and in past school years, in Lakota music education programs nor provide the operating budget totals for such programs.
Further cuts would be “devastating,” said Lakota school parent Jackie Fisher, whose seventh-grade daughter is learning to play the clarinet.
“The cuts that have been already made, or may be made, just break my heart. I understand the financial difficulties our district is facing, but this is the wrong area to make more cuts,” said Fisher.
Fellow school band parent Don Cox agreed, saying “with no sixth grade band this year, that is going to have a big impact on future bands.”
Thousand of families have children in music education programs and along with thousands more whose children participate in school athletics, they comprise “two of the biggest constituencies needed to pass (tax) levies,” Cox said.
“They keep hammering away at us and that makes parents frustrated,” he said.