By Joel van der Veen
WARMAN — School band programs for students in grades 5 through 10 will be among the casualties of a $7.1-million funding shortfall faced by Prairie Spirit School Division (PSSD) for the coming year.
PSSD announced in a bulletin sent to parents at the beginning of last week that as of this fall, instrumental band programs for those grades would no longer be funded across the division, which covers 45 schools in the communities surrounding Saskatoon, including Hanley Composite School and Dundurn Elementary School.
“Due to the major financial shortfall being experienced by our school division . . . we are faced with tough decisions regarding the allocation of available funds,” the bulletin read.
The bulletin explained that the current instrumental band program would be replaced with a broader musical education program over the next couple of years.
Starting in September, curricular after-school band practices will no longer be held for grades 5 through 10.
The bulletin noted that interested teachers may choose to organize extracurricular band practices, but stated that bussing for band students for those practices would not be provided.
Students who earned a Band 10 credit this year will be given the opportunity to complete Band 20 and/or Band 30 credits over the next couple of years, through a combination of classroom time and independent study.
These changes will have a direct impact on students in Hanley and Dundurn, where instrumental band programs are currently part of the curriculum.
Division staff confirmed that Dundurn Elementary School offers band for students in grades 5 and 6, while Hanley Composite School offers the program between grades 5 and 12.
PSSD staff members were not available for comment last week, but communications consultant Brenda Erickson provided a written statement to the Leader.
According to the division, the proposed change to the band program is “one of many reductions . . . that have been undertaken” in response to the funding shortfall, including cutbacks to staff and administration at the division office in Warman.
The bulletin to parents acknowledged that under the current program, fewer children continue to study music into their middle years and high school.
According to the division, band programs at the Grade 5 level attract from 38 to 64 per cent of students, but numbers drop off dramatically for students in grades 9 through 12, where band program enrolment sits at between 2 and 6 per cent.
“We know that students continue to have a strong interest in music in their lives, but they often are unable to find appealing or feasible ways to connect it to their experiences in school by the time they reach the secondary level,” read the bulletin.
“In making these changes, the school division hopes to positively impact the music education of a greater number of students.”
PSSD board chairman Larry Pavloff told the Leader last month that administrators were working “feverishly” to address the funding shortfall while minimizing the impact on students.
He said the province’s educational funding model was to blame, and that because of increased salaries for teachers negotiated by the province, the division was effectively left with the same amount of money to cover its growing expenses each year.
Prairie Spirit has made more than $2 million in staffing and programming cuts over the last two years, while $3 million in reserve funding was used to balance last year’s budget.
For the full story, please see the June 1 edition of The Davidson Leader.