ARVADA, Colo. – Recently, Pomona High School announced it would make cuts to its music program and other elective classes.
In a letter to students and parents, Principal Andy Geise said in part, “Not enough students chose instrumental music for Pomona to carry a full-time teacher. We made enough room for every student who chose instrumental music to have it in their schedule next year, and it’s essential for Pomona to maintain an instrumental music program moving forward.”
The cuts not only include the full-time instrumental music teacher position currently held by Armando Solis, but also include a part-time theatre teaching position and a dean position. In total, four teaching positions were eliminated.
“It was incredibly devastating,” said Sara Ewing, the mother of a Pomona High School freshman and music student.
Ewing said her and her son, Ronan Rhodes, read Geise's letter but were upset that he cited lower enrollment in music classes as the reason behind the job elimination.
“The frustrating part is that the instrumental music numbers are increasing this year versus last year. We went up several enrollments, several students coming in versus the seniors leaving," Ewing said. "The reason why that happened is because of Mr. Solis."
Ewing said Solis is the reason why her son decided to keep playing the flute.
“Mr. Solis, really, he's just a really cool guy. He got me back into band because I was thinking about quitting,” Rhodes said. “Then I had him as my freshman music teacher, and he got me back into it.”
Ewing said the plan to allow the current choir teacher to teach instrumental music is unrealistic.
“They're allowing a handful of instrumental music classes, but it's being taught by the choir teacher," Ewing said. "I know this choir teacher, they are an amazing teacher and they are so great with the choir and everything like that. I know that they'll make a really, really great effort for the students. But it's so important to have somebody with the skills that these kids need to learn in order to be successful with instruments."
Pomona High School issued a statement, which reads in part:
"In Colorado, schools are funded based on student enrollment. Like all schools in our state, Pomona High School receives a set amount of funding for each enrolled student. As part of staffing preparations for the upcoming school year, local school leadership is charged with projecting and planning based on what enrollment will be for the upcoming Fall; enrollment projections are based on the number of returning and choice-enrolled students, including incoming 9th graders from feeder middle schools. Student’s course selection requests inform staffing decisions at the school, particularly around electives.
Based on Pomona High School student selections, a full-time instrumental and vocal teacher was not warranted for the 2022-2023 school year. Students who signed up for instrumental and vocal music courses will have the opportunity to take these courses from excellent music teachers who are shared among multiple school campuses."
Jefferson County School District is one of many school districts that have made cuts to arts programs over the past few years.
Lisa Gedgaudas, program manager for Cultural Denver Affairs Arts and Venues, is in charge of the city’s music advancement fund.
“We gave 49 grants out, and I would say 20 of those were dedicated to youth K-12,” Gedgaudas said. “This shouldn't be something that's just an elective, and we need more funding, even if the funding is coming from really creative, new ways.”
Gedgaudas said Denver Music Advancement Fund grants only go up to $10,000, and in many cases, more help is needed.
“Our partner, Take Note Colorado, they help with some of our funding in Denver, but they work statewide. Their platform is really making sure that youth K-12 throughout the state get instruments and access to music education. That's a goal from Governor Hickenlooper to now Polis. We really align with that, and I think the louder that we can get about it, the better,” Gedgaudas said.
Ewing and Ronan said they are hoping by being vocal about the issue, more funding will materialize.
“There's a lot of students that are leaving. They're going to other high schools that are keeping their music program because they're making a career out of music,” Ewing said.
But Ewing said her family and many others don’t have that option and Pomona school leaders need to come up with a more equitable solution.