A while back I chimed in on a facebook post (I know…dangerous territory) concerning school activities and how much they cost. This particular parent was alarmed to discover the $100 fee for her daughter to participate in the high school musical. While I shared her alarm at the $25 non-refundable audition fee, I pointed out that $100 for participation in the show was pretty reasonable. Being a music teacher, I understand the costs of these productions. Costumes, lumber for sets, prop rentals, stage make-up, additional light and sound equipment, choreographer and musician fees, not to mention the royalties and material fees (yes, we have to rent the scripts and scores!)…it adds up! We shelled out $3000 for new microphones in the first production I helped direct. I can’t tell you what the snow machine rental cost, but can you imagine White Christmas ending without snow? A colleague of mine told me their production cost $32,000 last year. $32,000! What we charge for tickets, concessions, and merchandise is usually just a prayer on our part to cover the overhead, and have enough leftover to seed next year’s production.
One frustrated commenter on this feed asked, “doesn’t the school pay for anything anymore?”
Yes. They do. They pay for teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, administrators, security guards, cafeteria workers, and custodians. They pay for classroom furniture—desks, chairs, whiteboards, shelves, tables for the art rooms, risers for the choir room, pianos for the band room. They pay for books, curriculum, and technology. They campaign for and pass bond issues to help build new schools, athletics facilities, and performing arts centers. Really, YOU (and I) have been paying for those things with our tax dollars.
But in recent years, fewer of your tax dollars have been making it to the growing number of children in our state’s pubic education system. Schools are paying for a lot. But they’re able to pay for a lot less now due to steep budget cuts. They have to make tough choices. They’re trying to decide if they can live with one less media specialist so they can hire an additional Math instructor to ease the 35-per-class load on Geometry teachers. They go with the math position because the media center is tied up with testing for half the year anyway.
Forgive me if this makes me a traitor to my colleagues teaching the Fine Arts, but I get why funding the musical is pretty low on the priority totem pole right now. As a result, many of us find we must fund more and more of our programs every year. My students and their parents must raise the money to pay for every opportunity in which they partake in vocal music. Here are some of our expenses:
- Uniform Rental: $50
- All-State Audition: $10 (JH)/$15(HS) per student
- Note: If they make it, we ask them to fork over more money–$45 for each junior high student, and $79 for each high school, plus the cost of their hotel rooms (2 nights for JH, 3 nights for HS) and meals
- Accompanist Fees: $25/hour
- Transportation: $1/mile PLUS an hourly fee for driver
- Substitute Teachers: $60/day for every activity
- Solo Fee for contest: $10/student (plus accompanist fee)
- Ensemble Fees: $27-$36/ensemble (plus accompanist fee)
- Choral Contest Fee: $50 per choir
- Music/Curriculum: $2000-$3000/year
- Uniform cleaning and alterations: ~$2000
These are just some of the basic things. You probably won’t be surprised to find out we sold 500 dozen cinnamon rolls last fall, and almost 200 poinsettias at the Christmas concert. As unsurprising is the fact there isn’t any money left over to purchase technology for the classroom, new uniforms for the show choir, or pay for repairs to the pianos and other equipment.
Bottom line: “the district” can’t give us money they don’t have. And they don’t have the money because our state has continuously cut funding to education for the past 7 years. The most recent cuts—47.6 MILLION—came in the middle of the fiscal and school year. And this comes six months after legislators patted themselves on the back for holding educational funding steady when they finally passed a budget at the end of the 2015 session. Even before the recent cut of nearly $50M, it was a decrease in per pupil spending because of our rising enrollment in Oklahoma public schools. The same amount of money and more kids means less per pupil spending. That’s not politics. That’s just math, folks. And don’t let anybody tell you differently.
A few weeks ago, I tried to point out that the newest tax cuts taking effect this January are irresponsible given our fiscal situation. When we’re projecting a revenue shortfall of nearly a billion dollars (that’s a BILLION with a capital “B”, folks), it’s not the time to follow through with tax cuts that will net the average middle-class family about $30/year.
Many people agree.
That’s why some of us have decided to #GiveItBackOK. Since our legislators won’t put our tax dollars to good use, we’re doing so ourselves by sending the money we’re projected to net from this new tax cut to where it’s needed most. Some are sending it to their local schools—to teachers for classroom supplies, to school lunch programs, to booster clubs, to the school district foundation for those that have them.
I hope this movement continues to pick up steam. I hope some of you make the choice to #GiveItBackOK, and encourage others to do so as well. But most importantly, I hope you remember to hold our legislators accountable with your vote for making us do their job of properly funding FULLY our children’s education.