LISD students, parents plead for middle school orchestras

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By Leopold Knopp, Contributing Writer

UPDATE Nov. 14: The decision to close three LISD middle school orchestras was made by district administration, not elected officials, LISD chief communications officer Amanda Brim and chief schools officer Joseph Coburn confirmed. Coburn said that a consolidation plan was presented to the board at a June work session.

Coburn said the final decision to execute that plan was made in September and the board was notified of that decision in October.

Coburn said consolidating the orchestra programs would ease the logistics for the surviving programs, reducing the number of orchestra teachers who have to work part time or commute to different campuses during the day.

“With 90 minutes per day for high school elective courses and a reputation for fine arts excellence that is second to none, Lewisville ISD should be the premier destination for an orchestra teacher.  However, the existence of half time or multi-campus orchestra assignments was negating the advantages previously listed,” he said in an email. “Half-time teachers also create scheduling difficulties at the schools that can have an impact far beyond just orchestra.”

Coburn also said having fewer, larger orchestra programs would lead to a better student experience. He said LISD internal research indicates that 125 is the ideal class size for a school orchestra program, and removing the programs from the three schools in question is projected to more than double the number of orchestras that hit that number.

“That number [125 students] allows for a competitive varsity group, a robust non-varsity group, and beginning classes in which students can learn with other students on the same instrument,” he said. “Programs of that size can also sustain three ensembles at the high school level.”

Brim and Coburn both said the decision was not financially driven at all and is essentially budget neutral. 

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ORIGINAL STORY: What was planned to be a brief monthly meeting of the Lewisville ISD Board of Trustees became a two-and-a-half hour marathon Monday night.

More than 30 residents requested to address the board, all of them outraged over the recent announcement that the orchestra programs would be phased out at Lamar, Durham and Creek Valley middle schools.

The parade of public speakers was mostly made up of students, parents and staff from the affected schools and connected high schools and elementary schools, but included a UNT orchestra professor and even a performance from the current Creek Valley orchestra concert master.

LISD families were alerted recently to the decision to phase orchestra out at these schools over the next two-to-three years by ceasing to accept new sixth-grade orchestra students.

Fifth-grade families will be able to apply to transfer to middle schools where this is not happening during the spring transfer window Jan. 21-Feb. 21, according to a letter from LISD fine arts director Amanda Drinkwater.

Drinkwater listed several reasons for consolidating the programs, including making the program easier from a management perspective and enhanced ensemble opportunities.

This issue appears to have never been discussed publicly, and much about it remains unclear. It was not on the meeting agenda, so the board could not discuss it at the time, but board member Jenny Proznik moved to have it set on next month’s discussion agenda.

Board president Katherine Sells declined to comment immediately after the meeting, instead requesting to correspond via email through LISD chief communications officer Amanda Brim. Brim said the impacted campuses were first notified in April and that the issue was brought before the board in June. She said the district will not realize any savings as a result of consolidating the programs and neither staffing nor funding will be reduced.  The Cross Timbers Gazette will update this story with more information as soon as it becomes available. 

After the comment period ended, the meeting was mostly routine, with proposals for teaching supplies and marketing media approved on the consent agenda and annual updates from PediPlace and the School Health Advisory Council. 

The last item on the agenda approved a purchase agreement for LISD to buy attendance credits. This is the evolution of recapture. In 2017, the district was unexpectedly thrown into Texas’ school district “Robin Hood” recapture program by a drop in attendance, meaning it would be required to pay money back to the state based on its ratio of collected taxes to student attendance. However, as with much of school finance, the laws around recapture were rearranged during the state’s 2019 legislative session. 

District CFO Mike Ball explained that the new laws outline five ways for school districts to comply with recapture laws, four of which involve complex rearrangements of property or students that would require coordination with another school district, and the fifth to simply send cash back to the state, which is what LISD has been doing the past few years. 

The approved purchase agreement does not specify a dollar amount that will be sent back to the state. 

The LISD Board of Trustees meets monthly at 6 p.m., with open session usually starting at 7 p.m., usually on the second Monday of the month at the LISD Administrative Center in Lewisville. The next regular meeting, at which these middle school orchestra closures will likely be on the agenda, is scheduled for Dec. 9. These meetings are open to the public. 

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