Hockinson school district might hush the music

Fewer students, dwindling funding may affect school program

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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In the coming weeks, the Hockinson School District will face the music.

Or silence it.

With student enrollment on the decline, the school district is discussing whether to cut music classes at Hockinson Heights Primary School. It will be a difficult decision, school officials acknowledge, but a necessary one because of declining enrollment at the district's four rural schools.

The district is trying to avoid layoffs and has targeted the primary school's music classes because their teacher is scheduled to retire at the end of the year.

The cut would affect students in kindergarten through the second grade.

"It's a hard decision for us right now," Superintendent Sandra Yager said. "Sometimes, you have to decide what bad decision to make."

Without new students entering the classroom, the amount of per-student money that comes from the state drops. In the past year, the district has lost about 60 students, Yager said, resulting in an estimated $300,000 decrease in state funding. Total enrollment for the district's four schools is around 1,750, and that figure is expected to drop even further, leveling off at around 1,500 in the coming years, district officials say.

The reasons are twofold, officials add: The school district is composed primarily of single-family homes on large lots, which young couples with children don't typically buy, and its zoning requirements make it difficult to build new homes or apartment buildings.

Financial pressures aside, opponents of the proposal say nixing music classes would do the young students a disservice.

Studies show that students who take music lessons at an early age tend to do better throughout school, said Dan Wing, the president of the Washington Music Educators Association.

"It's been proven that music students have higher SAT scores, higher graduation rates, higher reading scores," he said. "So some of these (music) students are better overall students, stay in school and do well."

Wing sent a letter to the school district Wednesday outlining WMEA's position. He said the best case scenario would be to keep the music classes in place.

Parents say they're concerned about the plan, too.

Amanda Crumbley and her husband, Tyler, moved to a home in the Hockinson School District two years ago with their sons, Tayten and Gauge. As an amateur musician who studied trombone while at Western Washington University, Crumbley said the loss of the music classes would make the district's schools less desirable.

"It's troubling that because a teacher is retiring, (the district is considering) cutting the program," she said.

A Facebook group called "Save the Music in Hockinson," of which Crumbley is a member, has been established to raise awareness of the potential loss of the music classes at the primary school. The group is hosting a 7 p.m. meeting today at Music World, 502 E. Main St. in Battle Ground.

For their part, district officials say they're not looking to abandon music classes entirely. The school district might rely on volunteers with music backgrounds to provide instruction, Yager said, or it could incorporate music into homeroom classes without hiring a dedicated music teacher.

The school district expects to make a decision on the issue within a month.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.