Monday, July 22, 2024

Community rallies to save Cascade School District choir program amid budget cuts

The Icicle River Middle School 6th grade choir performs at their Winter Concert, led by choral director Isabella Garcia y Lauer.
The Icicle River Middle School 6th grade choir performs at their Winter Concert, led by choral director Isabella Garcia y Lauer.
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LEAVENWORTH - Across the United States and Washington, public schools have been scrambling to come to terms with budget cuts and lack of funding. Administrators have been forced to make difficult decisions regarding cutting positions, particularly in the fine arts. Cascade School District (CSD) is not immune from these challenges: recent CSD announcements outlined budget cuts, impacting both the middle school and high school choir programs. However, students, parents, and community members are rallying around the choir program, and have put together an extensive fundraising campaign to raise money to save the choir programs.

These budget challenges emerged when the district released its staffing plan for next year. One of the positions being absorbed was the choral program at the high school and middle school. 

“I didn’t realize that when I put in my resignation, the choral position was one that was being absorbed. I don’t think there was any motive behind it other than trying not to fire people. So, when that came out, there were lots of people who were upset about it,” said Garcia. 

Mindy Wall, who taught choir for the CSD prior to Garcia and is currently employed by the CSD as a part-time American Sign Language teacher at the high school, stepped up and volunteered to take over the high school choir class again. 

“When I heard the whole choir program was being cut, I was sad about it because I feel a lot of possessiveness over it. I took over the program in a chaotic time, and I think I made it fun and made a lot of progress. I feel like if we lost the choir program completely, we would never get it up and running again, so I talked to the administration and said if they can find the funding for a part-time teacher, I would step in. I don't want to leave teaching ASL, but I would be willing to step in to keep the program running so that one day, when the district has the funding again, it wouldn't be starting from scratch,” stated Wall.  

Wall’s willingness to help means that the high school will only have to add another part-time position, which is more manageable than adding another full-time position. However, this still leaves the middle school without a choir teacher. 

“I reached out to my choir boosters and let them know what happened, and from there, we started recruiting passionate people who want to help retain the choir program. We got PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) involved, and everyone involved has been supportive and clearly in favor of keeping choir and doing so much to ensure that happens. It has been so incredible that we have the amount of support that we have,” said Garcia. “Logistically speaking, if choir isn’t offered next year at the middle school, there will not be enough classes to put kids in to have a functioning schedule. As of right now, general education teachers would have to take on electives and exploratory periods. Not only this, but then band would be the only music class offered to the students, and every 6th grader is required to take a music class, creating potential overcrowding.” 

Once a program is cut, the chances of getting it back are slim to none because it is very difficult to find the funding to start a program from scratch. It also takes a long time to build a high-functioning program. This is why the students and teachers are working so hard to keep the choir program for next year. 

One of the driving forces in this campaign is Mercy Rome, President of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) and mother to children in the district. “I come from an arts background, and as a kid, I really found my home in music, dance, and theater. I think it's really important for kids to have the opportunity to find their home. It's not always going to be visual arts for all the kids, it's not going to be sports for all the kids, so we have to have lots of homes so that everyone can find their place. Music is something anyone can make with their voice, and it's so much a part of our history as humans to gather and sing, so I absolutely want that for our kids,” explains Rome. “My daughter, as soon as the cuts were announced, got in the car with me and was telling me about her friends being in tears about the loss of choir, and then a couple days later her friends wanted to start writing letters to the district, and try and find a way to save choir, and I have a strong fundraising background, and so I thought well, there is a way forward here. Krysten Furfaro and Amy Edwards, two other PTSA committee members, started putting pencil to paper and crunching the numbers to figure out a way forward.” 

Many of the high school choir members have been a part of the choir program throughout elementary and middle school. “I love choir because it's fun to make music with my friends, and I love the effect it has on people when we perform. The way we can express and bring out emotions in people is so cool. I believe it is important for middle school to have choir, because it teaches the importance of music in culture,” explains sophomore Gretchen Leach, a current choir member at the high school. 

“I want to emphasize how from my perspective, creating this campaign came out of the kids' desire to keep choir. They see the power and the benefit, and so we, as a community I want to support them and get behind their desire to keep the program. The district has been incredibly supportive. Superintendent Edou was in a very hard position. All administrators around the country who have been trying to figure out how to balance budgets post-COVID funding have made hard decisions, and I don’t think any of us would want to be in those positions. She’s incredibly excited that the student and community have the energy to support the district and figure out the funding to keep the program,” adds Rome.

The Crescendo Campaign aims to raise 65,000 dollars to fund the full 6th-12th-grade choir program, including the cost for accompanists, transportation, additional costs, and the salary for a part-time middle school choir teacher. The campaign has already been given a generous matching grant of 20,000 dollars from an anonymous donor in the community. 

The aim is to raise 2/3 of this money before August 1. That will give the district enough time to post and hire for the position, and the campaign will have enough confidence that they will get the final third.

Already this spring, a parking fundraiser raised almost 1,000 dollars, and more fundraisers, such as a community karaoke night and a benefit concert, are in the works. 

The benefit concert will take place on June 11 at 7 PM at the Snowy Owl Theater in Leavenworth. There will be an auction/raffle, and the concert will feature performances from the CSD choirs, as well as performances from local artists, some of which are products of the Cascade choir program, including Landon Davies, who graduated from Cascade High School three years ago and is now in pursuit of an education degree to teach music. “It is going to be a night to celebrate the Cascade choir program and show why it is such an invaluable part of the community,” says Garcia.

Follow the Cascade PTSA Facebook page to stay updated on information about the benefit concert or other fundraising events. 

Tickets for the benefit concert are available on the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts website and cost $20 for adults and $10 for students (preschool- college). If you have an auction item that you want to donate to the Benefit Concert, contact Amy Edwards at amyedwardsmusic@gmail.com, and for any other questions contact Mercy Rome at mercyrome@gmail.com.

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