Nogales school music program spared amid budget cuts - Tucson News Now

Nogales school music program spared amid budget cuts

NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The beat goes on for students in the Nogales Unified School District, which nearly lost popular band classes because of a funding shortage.

District leaders solved that problem but now they have another one.

The school board had to make decisions about what to cut and what to keep. In a time of budget constraint, they decided the position of the 5th grade band teacher was important enough to keep, but now they have a new challenge.

"Music is one of the most important things in this community."

In a school district with more than 6,000 students, music is more than "do-re-mi."

The general music program has long provided Nogales students a chance to learn about cultures beyond their own; simply put, it's more than music here.

"When I teach kids how to count, when I teach kids how to do rhythms, we are doing fractions. They'll say, ‘Mr. Frederick, is this math or is this music?' and I'll say it's both, you've got to know both," Lincoln Elementary music teacher Larry Frederick said.

Math is something the school's governing board knows about, too.

Last school year, the 5th grade band teacher left. The district didn't know whether the money would be there to replace the position.  When the state's legislative session ended later than usual, a little more money came in and the district decided to dip into its contingency fund keep a position they see as crucial.

"We weren't talking about cutting music teachers, we were cutting out fifth grade, which is a feeder to our middle school band program, which is huge and ultimately feeds into our high school program," Nogales Unified School District Superintendent Steve Zimmerman said.

The high school band is a function of the community. It's often been named the best in the state.

"I've always wanted to be in band and when I found out they might not have it, I got sad," said 5th grader Karina Torres.

The Nogales Unified School District has cut $8 million from its budget in the past five years. Like many others, Nogales Unified has dipped into overflow funds for years, and so far, the music program has been spared.

"It may not always be that way. With the state and the federal government cutting funding year after year after year after year, it is a scary thought."

Now two weeks into this school year, the district has the money, but not the candidate.

"First of all, music teachers are one of the hardest kind of teachers to find. Period."

Hard to find, yes. But students will tell you music is the best part of their day.

"Because I like to play the drums."

"We sign songs, he teaches us the notes, the high notes and stuff."

Starting this school year on a relative low note, the district hopes to end high with a new band teacher for fifth graders who right now are without one.

The district says it doesn't know what will happen next year or the year after. But for now, the position is still open.

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