Choir program on school's chopping block again

Rebecca Franssen cried when she heard the news.

It was Friday, and the Arbor View High School freshman had just been told the choir program she loves is being downsized.

"I broke down," she said. "It was not fun."

For the second year in a row, Clark County School District budget cuts are threatening the existence of Arbor View's choir program. Last year, the decision was reversed after parents and students protested. This time, the announcement comes late in the year, and the chances of a reprieve seem slim.

Starting in the fall, Franssen and about 60 other choir students at Arbor View will be able to take one choir class only for credit. The only option for incoming freshmen and other students who don't qualify for the advanced class will be to participate in an extracurricular club program. The position of the school's choir instructor, Stephanie Kruger, is being cut.

School officials said the upheaval is a consequence of an arbitration ruling that requires the cash-strapped Clark County School District to continue to pay for teacher raises as it faces a budget shortfall.

After the ruling was issued in May, Clark County School Board members adopted a 2012-13 budget of $2.062 billion that includes $60 million in cuts and the elimination of 1,015 jobs.

Franssen discovered choir in seventh grade. She had always liked music but never thought she had the talent for it until she took the class as an elective.

As a freshman, she is involved in three choir classes -madrigal, show choir and musical theater - and was set to serve as the program's vice president next year.

She decided to try and prevent the choir program from becoming a shadow of its current self by holding an after-school rally Monday afternoon. She created a Facebook event, called media and enlisted friends to help her hand out more than 300 fliers.

Close to 65 choir supporters showed up on the sidewalk across the street from the main entrance of the school, near Buffalo and Grand Teton drives.

Backpacks and binders were dropped to the ground as students picked up signs that said things such as "Save Our Voice!"

The crowd clapped, chanted and sang as they rallied to keep choir in the school's curriculum.

Parents such as Carole Tordjman came to support their children. Her son was involved in choir before graduating from Arbor View. Her daughter, Lexie Tordjman, is a sophomore who participates in show choir.

Other fine arts students, such as Arbor View junior Tim Davis, came to support his musical friends.

"Orchestra, band, choir, theater, they're all the same," he said. "We are all the same people."

The group's unity showed as its collection of voices joined together in chants that could be heard on campus.

Arbor View Principal Kevin McPartlin said he was proud of the peaceful protest despite having to be the bearer of bad news.

"It's truly just a budget decision," McPartlin said. "We are pro-choir. We are pro-performing arts."

McPartlin said the program was cut because of a district mandate that schools be staffed at 93 percent. At Arbor View, that means seven positions will be lost.

"We had to cut a program," he said. "We couldn't make class sizes go any higher and still expect positive things to happen in the classroom."

Of the programs considered for cuts, such as photography, automotive and culinary courses, choir had the fewest student participants with close to 60. The others had more than 200.

"This affected the least amount of kids," McPartlin said.

Outside his window, the chants were swapped for a Queen song. A school police cruiser rolled past the rally and gave two quick honks.

The crowd cheered, and the car's loudspeaker clicked on. An officer's voice wished Franssen and her friends good luck.

Contact Ben Frederickson at bfrederickson@review or 702-224-5512.


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