Don't scuttle the fifth-grade music-band program, Merced City School District Board of Education members have been told.
Also, the state government's practice of deferring payments to school districts was called "a form of domestic terrorism" by one board member.
As the board wrestles with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit for the next school year, one of the options is to pull back the four middle school music teachers. They also have been doing fifth-grade music programs at the 12 elementary schools in the system.
In another matter, the board voted this week to buy $10 million in tax anticipation notes so they can keep making payroll. The state continues to defer its school funding into the following year, which makes the borrowing necessary.
Sixteen people spoke to board members at Tuesday night's meeting at Chenoweth Elementary School, many pleading for them to keep fifth-grade music intact. The board appeared sympathetic to the cause.
"I would hate to see cuts there," board member Darrell Cherf said. "Music, it's important. If we could tap into a pot of money -- but that's not a reality."
Board member Gene Stamm said the fifth-grade music program has long been important.
"I'd like to find a way to keep it going," Stamm said. "It's such a deep hole we are trying to climb out of. We need to make sure others aren't thrown under the bus. We need to try to fit in the pieces."
Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said the board hasn't made any decision on music programs. She said the fifth-grade band program needs to be reconfigured. After spring break, meetings will be held with music teachers to find a solution to the problem.
Duran said she has received at least two dozen telephone calls and emails about fifth-grade music programs. All 12 elementary schools are visited by a middle school music teacher at least once or twice a week.
"We have to think outside of the box," Duran said.
John Gottschalk, a downtown Merced music store owner and former music teacher, implored the board to keep the fifth-grade band program as strong as possible.
"The elementary band program is the foundation of what middle school and high school programs are built from," Gottschalk said. Without the fifth-grade program, the number of students taking part in middle school music programs would be limited.
Board President Adam Cox said he supports fifth-grade band if alternative funding can be found for it.
"We cannot continue to pay for it with general fund dollars," Cox said. School site councils should be involved in trying to come up with a funding solution, he said.
With the tax anticipation notes, the board voted unanimously to buy the notes offered through the California School Board Association's cash reserve program.
Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services and personnel, said it will cost the district $200,000 to $300,000 to borrow the money because of state funding deferrals. The money is used to meet payroll and other expenses.
Forty-one percent of the district's unrestricted general fund money from the state is being deferred to the following year. The state is behind 40 percent in its funding from year to year, according to Spicer.
Cox called the funding deferrals a "form of domestic terrorism on school districts." He said the state is holding local school districts hostage and the borrowing cost is a huge chunk of money.
Cherf also criticized the funding deferrals.
"It's costing us money to get the money that's already ours," Cherf said. "It just doesn't make sense but that's the way it's working now. We need to send the bill to the state Legislature."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.