School Board Hears Praise for EL Music Programs and Requests from Teachers

Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 8:33 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

Above: Members of East Lansing High School's Encore Winds performed before the School Board meeting Monday night.

After being serenaded by a wind ensemble of flute, bassoon, oboe, French horn and clarinet, members of the East Lansing Board of Education asked if the group would play at all of their meetings.

Following the performance was a presentation by Larissa Miller, president of the East Lansing Band and Orchestra Parents Association (ELBOPA).

According to Miller, the music programs at the High School and Middle School currently serve “a staggering” 702 students with more than 400 of them in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“This is a direct testimony to the quality of instruction from David Rosin and Byron Valentine,” Miller said, referring to Rosin, who leads the 7-12th grade orchestra and Valentine, who leads the 6th grade. “Having a high school orchestra is kind of a luxury, not the norm in this State. It is a huge benefit to our students to have so many musical choices.”

The 2016-17 year saw the largest number of instrumentalists to date in the middle school band and orchestra. The High School’s Trojan Marching Band also reached record numbers in 2016.

The popularity of the music programs shows that East Lansing is something of a magnet school when it comes to performing arts, and it does an amazing job with fewer musical staff members than any of the surrounding districts, Miller said.

In addition to the musical education the students receive, they also find a community in their musical groups and that helps them succeed in all areas of life.

“I see the friendships that form, I see the communities, I see the sources of strength and support,” Miller said.

Heather Murray, parent of an East Lansing High School senior and a recent graduate, credits the band and orchestra for enriching both of her daughters’ lives.

“Living with them and their instruments, I can say they play a very big role in who they are today,” she said.

In addition to the presentation by ELBOPA, the Board also heard concerns from various teachers requesting that the District continue its current health insurance plan. The District is beginning negotiations with the East Lansing Education Association (ELEA) teachers’ union on the three-year contract set to expire June 30. The previous contract included an “80/20” split of health insurance costs instead of a “hard cap” plan that would limit the annual increase of District portion to 2.9 percent per year.

Tim Akers, President of ELEA, thanked the Board for agreeing to keep the 80/20 health plan in place and told the Board that it allowed teachers to “keep current doctors and courses of treatments” and allowed families to save $2,000. He added that teachers had made sacrifices in the past when the District had financial difficulties, and that now, with more stability in the budget, he hopes the District will continue the 80/20 plan despite the fact that it costs the District an extra $310,000.

Akers’ request was echoed by teachers Heather Mueller and Dave Price as well as ELPS Sex Education Director Mary Ellen Vrbanac, who is also a classroom teacher.

Next, the Board heard an introduction from Patrick Fuller, a local attorney and AFLAC employee who is running to replace Rep. Sam Singh in the Michigan House of Representatives 69th district.

Finally, Alice Brinkman, director of REACH, a non-profit art studio in Lansing, encouraged the Board to continue to support art education because March is “Arts Advocacy Month.”