Group urges more arts education in Alhambra Unified School District

by Brian Day, staff writer, posted: 02/04/2010 07:02:41 PM PST

While teachers, Alhambra Unified School District officials and an arts advocacy group agree that music and arts are a vital part of a child's education, the parties aren't seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to the current level of instruction available to students.

Parents for Music and Arts founder Johnny Thompson said the district has stopped ordering music supplies from his store because he started an arts-advocacy group to encourage the district to beef up music programs.

Thompson, owner of Johnny Thompson Music in Monterey Park , said the district is sacrificing the music program to concentrate on core subjects tested by the state.

"Standardized testing is important, but we are saying balanced education is even more important ," said Thompson, who has lived in Monterey Park since 1949 and graduated from Mark Keppel High School, which is in Alhambra Unified.

Alhambra Unified Superintendent Donna Perez said the district has made only minimal cuts to arts education in recent years. "At a time of major financial crisis in California, we can proudly say that our (arts) program is truly functioning at full speed, " she said. New arts-centered clinics are planned for students this year, Perez said , and a new music building is under construction at Mark Keppel High School.

But part-time elementary music Bonnie Skolnik said by her calculations, the number of full-time equivalent art staff hours for kindergartners through 8th-graders in the district has dropped by nearly half since 2004.

Mark Keppel music director Carla Bartlett, along with other AUSD high school music directors, said the district has recently stopped approving their orders of supplies or repairs to Johnny Thompson Music, though they didn' t know why. "Our repair budget has not gone down," Bartlett said. "We submit purchase orders for instrument repairs. They have not been approved to Johnny Thompson Music."

Similar requests made through other music stores have been approved, she said. Perez denied that the district was no longer dealing with Thompson. "We have not stopped doing business with Mr. Thompson," she said, adding that the district plans to continue doing business with him. "I'm sorry he feels that way," Perez said. "He's been an advocate of our district, and we of him." Thompson and area music advocates have taken their complaints to the Monterey Park City Council.

The council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution supporting Parents for Music and Art.

Councilman Frank Venti called the resolution a "no-brainer." "What it is is just encouraging the school district to keep focused on arts and music, " he said. If a Monterey Park business is being boycotted due to the opinions of the owner , he said, "It would be very disturbing to me as a council member. "

brian.day@sgvn.com
(626) 578-6300, ext. 4586

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