Berkeley fourth graders—forced by budget cuts to trade in their violins and trumpets for rhythm lessons and recorders—are banking on unwanted CDs to bring the band back together.
“It’s got a nice ring,” said Ken Sarachan, owner of Rasputin Music. “Save music in the schools by dumping your unwanted music.”
Through Dec. 17, anyone tired off watching their most played-out CDs, tapes, records, or DVDs collect dust on the shelf can give them to Rasputin. The store will donate the buy-back price plus an extra 10 percent to the Berkeley music program.
The campaign will help the music store replenish its used music stockpiles, but more important, might resuscitate Berkeley’s elementary and middle school music programs, decimated by district cuts.
Last year, the school board—facing an $6 million budget deficit—stopped funding its share of the music program—roughly $100,000.
The net result: Two music teachers fired, no instrument instruction until the fifth grade, and middle school band and orchestra practice scaled back from five to three days per week, though some middle schools have found money to boost instruction.
Money from a voter-approved 1994 parcel tax still funds the program, but the nearly $500,000 doesn’t go as far as it did 10 years ago said Suzanne McCulloch, the district’s visual and performing arts coordinator.
“Medical benefits and workman’s compensation have risen astronomically,” she said, noting that in her three years in Berkeley the district has had to cut the number of Full Time Equivalent music teachers from 12 to 9.
The teachers have become virtual gypsies, driving from school to school for classes. With their ranks depleted, class size in the elementary schools has doubled and this year administrators and parents agreed there was no point teaching fourth graders to play instruments with 32 kids in the class.
The high school is not affected by the budget cuts because its funding comes from school-site money to pay for electives, and its most renowned ensemble—the jazz band—is self-sufficient.
To keep the flow of talent reaching the high school, the music committee has sought to offset lost funds, holding a benefit concert last spring that netted them about $6,000 before turning to Rasputin.
“This could be the biggie,” said Bob Kridle, a parent of a music student and chairman of the BUSD Music Committee. “If we got two or three pieces from every district family that would be about $100,000.”
Rasputin on average pays between 50 cents to $6 for CDs, a little more for DVDs, and usually less for records and tapes—all based on demand. So far the average donation has fetched about $1.
To make donating easy, the committee has set up barrels in all public schools and libraries for donors to dump unwanted disks. Rasputin also accepts donations at the store, and anyone with 50 or more pieces can call 486-8192 for a free pick up.
While used CD’s might save Berkeley music instruction this year, ultimately only property taxes can do the trick, supporters say. The ballot initiative—Berkeley Schools Excellence Project—that has funded most of the music program is set to expire in three years, and the school board is considering putting an extension with more money for music programs on the November ballot.
“With the state only testing for math and English, that’s where the money’s going,” Kridle said. “If we’re going to have an arts program were going to have to do it ourselves.”