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CPS Budget Cuts: Murphy School Marches on Without Band

By Patty Wetli | August 22, 2013 10:22am
Murphy School Band
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

IRVING PARK — It felt like a festival, what with the sack races and tug-of-war, a Bozo bucket game — sans Bozo — and group singalong. You'd never know that the folks at Murphy Elementary School's back-to-school potluck gathering were saying goodbye to their beloved band program.

On Tuesday, band teacher Carol Swan led students in what could be the Murphy band's final performance. Despite the school's fine arts concentration, administrators were forced to make cuts to drama, dance and music — band among them — in the face of a $600,000 budget loss due to Chicago Public Schools' new funding formula.

"We had to make some decisions about what we could fund," said Roberta Salas, chairwoman of Murphy's Local School Council.

Principal Christine Zelenka did her best to stretch available dollars as far as they could go, according to Salas, but ultimately a number of programs were cut in half.

Zelenka declined to comment for this article.

Murphy, at 3539 W. Grace St., isn't alone. The education advocacy group Raise Your Hand estimates that districtwide 68 elementary schools lost art positions, 47 lost music positions, and 19 lost performing arts positions.

Though Swan remained upbeat, particularly in front of her students — some of them recently graduated eighth-graders returning from a music camp — she expressed frustration with the budget constraints.

"We have instruments. We have students. We just need funding," she said. "We need to march music back into our school. It's good for our minds and bodies and also our hearts."

Parents were distressed by the cuts as well.

"Some of the best things about the school are the live performances," said Neil Hoying, whose 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter attend Murphy.

"This isn't a community that can raise $50,000 over the weekend. By and large, most schools are not that either," he continued. "My hope is that people get unified and push back in a systemic way — all funding for all schools. We have to launch the push as parents; we need to wake up and get behind the wheel."

A neighborhood school with a Level 1 "excellent" performance rating, Murphy's enrollment is nearly 75 percent low-income.

"For many of these kids, this is the only place they're going to get fine arts," said Salas. "They can't afford private lessons."

In recognition of this opportunity gap, Murphy has extended arts education to parents as well.

"We have a community sing every month where we all gather in the auditorium and sing our heads off," said Sandy Lucas, Murphy's visual and music arts teacher.

A former director of Old Town School of Folk Music's Wiggleworms program for youngsters, Lucas also holds a family music class once a month.

With CPS students set to return to school on Monday, Salas remained hopeful that Murphy would somehow find the dollars needed to keep band alive in one form or another.

"We have a great neighborhood school, and we're going to carry on," she said. "But we also want to remind people there are neighborhood schools like this all over the city. They all deserve to have kids running around singing."