Music Department Surprised by Budget Changes

Officials say teachers should continue their programs as planned

By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief

By the time orchestra director Seth Matuszak learned what his budget was for the year, it was nearly spent.

Teachers in the West Bend High Schools music department did not officially know until November that their budget was significantly decreased from last school year. Because of this, music instructors have recently had to find new ways to plan for the rest of the year.

Based upon financial numbers provided by band director and music department leader Leah Duckert-Kroll, the overall music budget was decreased by approximately 31.2 percent since last year. This lowered the band budget by nearly 36.5 percent and the orchestra budget by about 42.3 percent. The choir budget increased by approximately 8.6 percent, but it is still lower than it has been in many previous years. Additionally, the music budget includes a set amount to be used for producing musicals each year, which was unaffected by the department’s overall decrease.

Duckert-Kroll also indicated that, when looking as far back as the 2002-03 school year, the current band budget is the lowest it has ever been.

Matuszak says that the amount of money originally allotted to him has already been spent for the year.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t know what our budget was going to be in the timely manner to be able to adequately prepare for the school year,” Matuszak said. “A lot of decisions are made in the summertime based off of that information, so it’s hard to know how you’re going to do some things if you don’t have budgetary information.”

Duckert-Kroll says that in the past, teachers were given their budgets in the spring of the previous school year. However, she feels that recent budgets have been provided far too late.

“We already have purchase orders completed, we were told to use last year’s numbers until budgets came out, but we had really no idea if we budgeted accurately for the year because we saw no hard numbers,” Duckert-Kroll said. “And now with significant budget cuts, we may have overspent without knowing it. This could be avoided if we would go back to our older way of getting the budgets the previous spring.”

West principal Ralph Schlass explained that there were some budgeting reviews going on into early fall and that WBHS received less money this year. He added that the administration tried to protect as many of the department budgets as possible and that few have experienced significant decreases.

“I think the fact that we have a little less money this year, while it’s real, it’s not affecting departments in any negative way,” Schlass said.

Schlass also says that because he does not like to take money out of classrooms, he usually looks to see where he may be able to make cuts out of his principal budget.

“If that means, though, that, as part of that, there’s less field trip money, I factor all of that in because I value field trips and stuff like that,” he said. “But there’s only so much money to go around. Overall, I thought we gave every department a healthy budget.”

Band director Corey Murphy leads his fifth period Symphonic band Dec. 21. Photo by Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief.

According to district business officer Karen Herman, several primary factors impacted district revenue this year, including declining enrollment, decreased state aid and a statewide increase in private school voucher claims. In turn, these factors ultimately affected the budgets of East and West High.

School board treasurer Chris Zwygart indicated that the district is planning for a current budgetary deficit of approximately $1.5 million. However, he says that the district has safeguards to prevent the school board from running a budget without the resources to pay for that allocation.

“We normally plan for our tax revenue to meet or exceed our expenses,” Zwygart said. “In those years, the district can set aside financial reserves for years where our planned expenses are greater than our tax revenue. These financial reserves ensure the school district can meet its budgetary obligations each year. This year, we plan to use $1.5 million of those reserves for that purpose.”

Matuszak says that it is imperative to be able to adapt to these types of situations and try to problem solve.

“(The budget decrease) is significant enough where I have to change some things about how I do it this year at this point, like maybe alter a few plans,” Matuszak said. “Fundraising, how fundraiser money is used now, I’ll have to change it a little bit, so it’s all kind of about shifting things around a little bit.”

When asked about her feelings regarding the music budget’s decrease, Duckert-Kroll expressed frustration. She is concerned that the decision could affect the opportunities of students, especially considering that they are increasingly utilizing school-provided instruments.

“If our repair budget shrinks and our repair budget is expended earlier in the year than normal, a student may need to wait on a repair until the next school year, which means that they’re using a broken instrument,” Duckert-Kroll said. “That directly impacts their ability to grow their music education in meaningful ways. It would be like a basketball player using a flat basketball.”

Samantha Hillshafer, an East junior and a member of the Vivace choir, also thinks that the reduction of the department’s budget will have an impact on music students.

“I feel like it’s definitely going to affect us because we have field trips and everything, and I feel like we won’t be able to do a lot of fun stuff like that now,” Hillshafer said.

Matuszak says that when he recently met with East principal Darci VanAdestine to discuss the orchestra budget, he was instructed to continue as planned.

“I was told that I can still move forward with any of those (costs and repairs) and money can be shifted around within the overall budget to help pay for things we need,” Matuszak said.

Before budgets were released, choir teacher Tess Tranel started a Snap! Raise fundraiser in October to aid for the costs of repairing equipment, purchasing new music and costumes, as well as replacing decorations for the Madrigal Dinner.

“I wasn’t sure what we were going to need for the year just because I wasn’t sure, according to Karen Wysocky, that some things (for the Madrigal Dinner) had been thrown out and whatnot, and I had heard that the budget was going to be cut, so I just wanted to kind of preemptively take care of that with a fundraiser,” Tranel said.

A major expense for the choir department would also be to tune up the piano, according to Tranel.

“The piano itself, if I remember correctly, was 40 to 50 thousand dollars,” Tranel said. “And then the piano tuner who came in and looked at it said that he could probably do a few hundred dollars worth of tuning, and that’s just one time and he comes once every few months to do that. That’s a lot over the course of the year.”

Tess Tranel sits at the piano during her fourth period concert choir class Dec. 21. After a piano tuner said the instrument had not been well maintained, Tranel started a choir fundraiser in October to help cover the repair expenses. Photo courtesy of Lauren Oppermann, West sophomore.

Schlass says that the music budget was created based on how much money the department has typically been spending on average the past three years.

“If their money seems to be a little lower than what their costs will be, then I’ll just move money from my principal budget to their budget to cover those expenses,” Schlass said. “So essentially, departments are going to get what they want, they just have to sometimes explain or justify why they need to spend the money that they’re spending at a certain point.”

Schlass indicated that he has already had to assist another department in this way.

“I know (West) social studies has spent their budget already and we’re not even through first semester,” Schlass said. “One of the West teachers said, ‘Well, I need a piece of equipment.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll pay for it.’”

West social studies department leader Tanya Lohr confirmed that the original budget has been spent for the year.

West junior Talena Balasch, an orchestra student in Matuszak’s Sinfonia class, disagrees with the decision to lower the music budget. She thinks that the department should be receiving more money, not less.

“Music should have much more funding because studies even show that kids that partake in musical stuff have better life skills,” Balasch said. “So if they’re cutting the music budget, they’re kind of also cutting down on the life skills that kids can gain from doing stuff like that.”

East junior and band student Caitlin Marsch expressed similar disappointment, while also highlighting concern for the music department’s future.

“Band has been the driving force in my high school career for the past three years, and I know many others can say the same,” Marsch said. “I’m concerned that the music department will become a privilege for students who can afford it, and alienate disadvantaged students. Everyone has a right to music, regardless of income.”

Still, Schlass emphasized that despite this monetary decrease, no less value has been placed on music.

“I love music, I love choir, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt that department at all,” he said.

(Top image: Orchestra director Seth Matuszak instructs his fifth period Sinfonia class Dec. 19. Photo by Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief.)


Filed under School News and Features

4 responses to “Music Department Surprised by Budget Changes

  1. Darlene Denis

    This is unacceptable. How are students supposed to grow when the resources they need aren’t available? It is unreasonable to expect teachers to lose 30% of their budget without any notice and at the same time present 100%of their curriculum. I’m willing to bet the football program wasn’t cut 30%.

  2. Dani Schumacher

    Samantha, thank you for your research and for writing this insightful article. I’m so proud of you and your efforts!

  3. Lisa Kitzke

    Well written Samantha. Thank you for giving us all a voice and representing the students and teachers. We hope our community recognizes the importance of public education and the investment it needs. As an “arts destination” district that has award winning music ensembles and enrollment that is unheard of in Wisconsin….we need to do better.

  4. Noah Doedens

    First off, this was very well written and well laid-out Samantha! I love that you are continuously giving teachers a larger voice that can be heard by our community. Music has such an influence on so many individuals around the world and on society as a whole. It is something that lasts a lifetime, and the skills students learn today will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Not only is the administration decreasing the budget by almost 40% in some cases, but not telling the teachers until November is outrageous. It puts teachers in a bind because they don’t know how much they can spend because they know that next year their budget could be decreased again. You are continuously seeing our sports teams getting new uniforms and new equipment when they are not needed. However, many instruments in our high school band are broken, yet they cannot be fixed because the teachers have run of the minuscule amount of money they were given. As important as high school sports and the experience of team sports is, I think many would believe that the experiences and skills learned through music are more valuable than those attained from sports. I hope that in the future, the district can better distribute the money to departments that need it and deserve it.

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