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Murray Journal

Fund to Help Murray Schools’ Music Education

Oct 04, 2016 02:01PM ● By Tyler Warren

By Tyler Warren  | [email protected]

In this era of limited resources and strict standards for educators, it is easy for many schools to let arts education fall through the cracks. For schools in Murray, the city provides financial assistance to ensure students are receiving a balanced education that includes music and the arts.

“Traditionally, schools spend less time on music and the arts than math and science. What this fund does is make sure the schools are focusing on those other areas,” said Doug Hill, director of public services for Murray.

Murray School District Superintendent Steven Hirase explained that the importance of the arts goes far beyond giving students a break from the monotony of core classes. 

“There’s a lot of research that shows that art programs really help students in academic areas not just for their creativity but it supports academic growth in the classroom. It’s also an opportunity for students to experience things that later become their passion in life,” Hirase said.

Unfortunately, in times of scarcity, these programs are often the first to go. Hirase recalled the tough choices schools had to make around the time of the Great Recession. 

“In 2008 when the economy went south, the state cut funding to schools. At that time we had to really look at what we had in place and make some decisions about certain programs that we were not able to fund and keep the core programs.”

Fortunately, with the help of the city, Murray’s elementary schools were able to keep their music programs intact. But recently concerns have been raised over whether this money was being spent appropriately.

The Murray Arts Advisory Board is a nine-member panel that assists the city in making decisions regarding culture and the arts. The Board assessed the fund and found issues with the way the school district was handling the money. 

“Over time we noticed that they were spending less and less time on music education,” Hill said. “The Arts Advisory Board felt like the amount of time spent by the music specialist was not appropriate for the amount of money the city was funding. They recommended that the city and school district get together and work out the terms of the agreement.”

In August, the city drafted up an Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with the School District. It was presented to the City Council and passed in a resolution on September 6.

The agreement authorizes the city to provide up to $40,000 for financial assistance to fund two music specialists and a district music trainer. This money will contribute 50 percent of Murray School District’s expenses for these position, including salary, training and supplies. 

In order to receive the money, the city’s funds must only be used for expenses directly related to classroom music instruction. Schools must provide a minimum of 30 minutes of classroom music instruction per week for all students. Instructors are given a budget of $500 to pay for supplies and must be compensated for appropriate preparation time, not just classroom instruction. 

As part of the agreement, Murray School District will receive compensation after they submit program expenses, along with a written report verifying that they have met the conditions of the agreement at the end of each semester. 

Doug Hill stressed that this is only a formalization of a preexisting agreement. The document makes explicit the responsibilities of both parties, setting concrete conditions that must be met in order for the school district to receive financial assistance. It also gives the city the ability to “hold their feet to the fire” if conditions are not being met.

Hirase said the school district provided input throughout the drafting process, but they have not yet received a final copy. He saw this agreement as just the latest in a series of formalized relationships between the Murray and the school district, not as a response to any particular issue. 

“Any money that we get for specific purposes I can assure you is being spent for those purposes,” Hirase said.