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Parents Hope Fund Drive Makes Music for Schools

September 06, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

When West Covina Unified School District officials were looking in July for ways to offset the district's $2.6-million deficit, one suggestion was to eliminate the elementary school music program.

The prospect of silence replacing the sound of young musicians practicing in the district's nine elementary schools drew a discordant response from parents. Their protests persuaded the Board of Education to cut only one of the schools' two music instructor positions in enacting the 1987-88 budget late last month.

While they were happy to win a reprieve for their musical offspring, parents pleaded with the school board to spare the second teaching position. However, board members said that with extracurricular activities being reduced or eliminated throughout the district, one music instructor was all it could afford.

Program 'Doomed'

The parents fear that the program is headed toward its finale, since the loss of one instructor means that fourth-grade students will not be able to take introductory music classes.

"Even with one teacher going to all the schools, the program is doomed if we don't have the fourth-graders coming up," said parent Marion Sadowsky. "I'm concerned that West Covina Unified has such a lackadaisical attitude toward music in its curriculum."

The parents' frustration is shared by music instructor Carlton Wong, who will have to teach more than 180 students by himself this year.

"The reason for not having beginners is not having time," Wong said. "Even with two teachers, it was nearly impossible to have a thriving program in nine schools. It was very difficult schedule-wise. I had lunch maybe once a week."

Note of Optimism

However, Wong and his pupils' parents are approaching the coming school year with a note of optimism.

About 20 parents have banded together to form the Elementary Music Parents Organization (TEMPO) to solicit donations of money and musical instruments, with encouraging results so far.

Even before its first meeting last week, the group had received contributions totaling $2,150. Donors included such local luminaries as West Covina Police Chief Craig Meacham and Councilman Forest Tennant, who augmented his financial contribution by giving the group his cornet.

But the members of TEMPO are trying not to become complacent with their early success.

According to the district, the cost of salary and benefits for the other elementary school music instructor would exceed $45,000. The parents are also trying to make up for budget cuts affecting the purchase and maintenance of instruments.

"The most ambitious thing we could try to undertake," said Jay Munns, chairman of the group, "is to raise the money to fund that second teaching position and try to get this program back on its feet. That's going to be a chunk."

And the parents must orchestrate their fund-raising efforts quickly to meet their original objective of rehiring the second music instructor for the spring, 1988, semester.

Jane D. Gawronski, West Covina's superintendent of schools, said she applauds the parents' campaign but questions the feasibility of their loftier goals.

"In my experience, I'm not aware of any community efforts that have been able to fund a full-time teaching position," Gawronski said. "(And) if they do it for one year, they have to look around and find a way to get the funds for a second or third year."

For the present, the group will appeal to community leaders, civic groups and other parents of elementary schoolchildren. However, Lolly Bergman, who has been active in school district affairs for 32 years, said the parents must broaden their efforts and seek grants from the federal government and large corporations.

"You can't make it out of the parents alone," Bergman told the group at its meeting Monday. "You can't make it out of this community alone. You have to go beyond."

Bergman also persuaded the group to alter its strategy. Originally, the parents wanted to immediately form a fine arts council, a nonprofit corporation that would eventually expand its efforts beyond the elementary school music program to promote cultural activities throughout the community.

Although the group still plans to form a fine arts council in the future, Bergman told members that the legal process of incorporation would be time-consuming and could undermine the parents' immediate goals.

"If I'm reading this community accurately, they won't support a fine arts council, but they will support something for the kids," Bergman said.

Instead of forming their own nonprofit organization, the parents will funnel contributions for the music program through the West Covina High School Fundraising Assn., which coordinates fund-raising efforts such as bingo to support extracurricular activities for students.

Although the drive to save the elementary school music program was born out of public furor over the district's financial woes, Munns said the parents group must seek to sustain support for its efforts after the controversy has subsided.

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