Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

North Allegheny pondering cuts to music program

May drop 3rd-grade orchestra lessons

- By Sandy Trozzo Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanli­ving@post-gazette.com.

The North Allegheny school board is set to vote Wednesday on a proposal to eliminate orchestra lessons for third-graders to save $115,000 a year.

The issue was debated at last week’s meeting, which drew parents opposed to the idea.

Currently, orchestra lessons begin in third grade, while band and orchestra begin the following year.

Under the proposal, those lessons would not begin until fourth grade for students who choose them.

“This adjustment would balance out the equity with the music options for elementary students,” said superinten­dent Robert Scherrer at Wednesday’s board session.

Also, he said, high interest among current secondgrad­ers may force the district to hire another halftime orchestra teacher next year if the program remains as is.

Mr. Scherrer said the idea was first broached last year, but would have required a furlough to implement.

This year, an elementary orchestra teacher is retiring. Not replacing her would save $70,000 in salary and benefits. Not having to hire a half-time teacher would save another $45,000.

Nearly 50 residents attended the meeting, and 11 spoke in opposition to the move.

Alison Fujito, a parent and violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, said the optimum age to begin a string instrument is between 7 and 9. Cutting third-grade orchestra will have ramificati­ons down the line for the orchestra program, including the high school Strolling Strings and the pit orchestra for the musicals, she said.

Allyson Minton said moving string instructio­n to third grade in the early 1980s “was one of the most important pieces of building North Allegheny’s orchestra into the 1,700-student powerhouse it is today.”

North Allegheny is an educationa­l leader and is watched closely by other school districts, said Carleen Papa.

“This will set a precedent that … music is just not important,” she said.

Ninth-grade orchestra student Madeleine Schreiber said even nonorchest­ra students want to save the program. “We are NA and we have one of the best programs: band, chorus, orchestra. It’s all amazing.”

A majority of board members also said they will oppose the move next week.

“I think it is unfortunat­e that we continue to put music on the chopping block,” said board member Tara Fisher.

Board member Suzanne Filiaggi said pulling students out of classes to go to orchestra brings kids of different background­s and abilities together to make music without competitio­n, and that release is needed. “We have the tests. We have the stressors. The music program is what gives them the joy.”

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