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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Proposed music cut raises sour notes in Potsdam

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POTSDAM - Some residents expressed opposition to proposals by school officials to reduce its music program as a way to offset a projected budget deficit of $1.2 million.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Patrick M. Brady outlined a potential budget that cuts 12 positions, including a music teacher position through attrition, to trim the spending plan by nearly $1 million.

Mr. Brady said that if music teacher Theresa Witmer is not replaced after her retirement at the end of the school year the district would move from having five full-time music teachers to four, excluding a part-time teacher. The cut may push back early instrumental music education back from fourth grade to fifth grade.

“It’s an unfortunate decision to make because we have a strong music program that’s well-respected,” Mr. Brady said. “Unfortunately this is a trend across the state, where programs that are not mandated but are also important become targets for cuts.”

Resident Elizabeth Bollt addressed the Potsdam Central School District Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, saying she wanted a “well-rounded” education for her children enrolled in the school district.

“I hope that when you make decisions on cuts, you keep the arts and music. I think (Ms. Witmer) did an excellent job, and her position deserves to be replaced,” Ms. Bollt said. “But I understand you have the most difficult job in Potsdam right now.”

Former school board member Sandra Morris also raised concerns about reductions in the the school district’s music programs, saying she felt the cuts unfairly targeted arts and music programs, as opposed to other extracurriculuar activities.

“You still have not recommended any cuts to athletic programs, but you’re eliminating a music position,” Ms. Morris said. “It seems like we are making cuts based on who’s retiring.”

Mr. Brady said school officials had considered cuts to athletic programs, but found “there are not significant savings to cuts to athletic programs unless we are planning to reduce a significant number of opportunities for students.”

He also pointed out no cuts were proposed to art programs and said that if Ms. Witmer’s post is not filled school officials would work with the other music teachers to try to offset the loss of her position.

“If this reduction takes place, we will work with music teachers and district officials to best maximize opportunities for students,” Mr. Brady said.

His proposal would also eliminate one high school teacher from each of the four core subject areas (math, science, social studies and English), as well as a part-time position from the foreign language department. A retiring physical education teacher, two elementary school teachers and a special education teacher would not be replaced. A cafeteria monitor and cashier would also be laid off.

“The lack of support in state aid, along with sharply rising costs created some very difficult choices,” Mr. Brady said. “We have to make significant cuts to maintain the quality of our educational programs.”

Mr. Brady noted those cuts would total $987,397, and leave the district with a deficit of just over $200,000.

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