Each member of the School Board seems to appreciate the Flagler Youth Orchestra strings program. But they don’t all agree that it is worthy enough to continue to fund.
The after-school program, which is entering its 17th season, offers comprehensive instruction on orchestral string instruments.
The program’s budget for the 2022-23 school year is $87,585. The school district would fund $70,000 and provide the use of the facility for the program on the Indian Trails Middle School campus. The program raises funds for the remaining $17,585.
The budget covers the salaries of six part-time instructors and program director Cheryl Tristam.
“I think this is the biggest bargain the district possibly gets, to provide this experience.”
“I think this is the biggest bargain the district possibly gets, to provide this experience,” board member Colleen Conklin said at a School Board agenda workshop on July 5. “I don’t know any other school district that has anything like this.”
But board member Janet McDonald said she has problems with the “equity” of the program.
“None of our students are getting daily exposure to art and music and movement (during the regular school day),” McDonald said. “How can we say it’s an equitable relationship?”
McDonald said program participants receive school bus transportation while transportation is not available to some other groups.
“The total cost is certainly a value, but we don’t have it for other independent activities,” she said. “With all the accolades, all the benefits to the community, I think we have to look at fairness.”
Tristam said every single student 8 years or older in Flagler County can participate in the program.
“We have three different class hours they can choose from,” she said. “Transportation only came into the equation when people were saying, ‘I’d love for her to do it, but I’m still working and I can't get her there.’ That child would presumably be taking a bus home. So we’re talking about them hopping on a different bus. To me, it’s efficient, just piggybacking on something that already exists.”
Tristam said 200 students participated in the program this past school year, the program’s first full season back in person since the COVID lockdown in 2020. Normally, the program draws in the high 300s, she said, but because of the pandemic it did not have its recruiting tour last year.
“The total cost is certainly a value, but we don’t have it for other independent activities. With all the accolades, all the benefits to the community, I think we have to look at fairness.”
“The organic exposure to instruments is huge,” Tristam said. “But we did not want to be a super spreader, so we didn’t have it.”
She said the students performed three well-attended concerts at the Flagler Auditorium. The program resumed its chamber music camp, had 17 ensembles and several string performances around town. They also performed with an ELO tribute band at the auditorium last month.
“It’s always a delight to (see) your group in performance,” board member Cheryl Massaro said. “It’s always closed a gap. A lot of places don’t have these things. I’m very glad to be able to offer this to our community as well as the students involved in it.”
Board member Jill Woolbright said when she was a teacher, she saw how the program turned around the life of students in her classroom.
“I don’t want it to go anywhere,” Woolbright said. “You have built a program. You have buy-in now, you have repeat families. It’s nice to get emails about people happy about things we’re doing in Flagler Schools. But to Ms. McDonald’s point, just because we’ve done something for 17 years, doesn’t mean we don’t change.”
Woolbright said she has gotten pushback from band parents who pay a fee, and added that PAL parents pay for football equipment.
Tristam said participants in the strings program do not have to pay for outfits, like band participants do. She said most families in the program rent their instruments at $18 to $50 per month.
“We’re paying for seven (positions),” Conklin said. “This is the biggest bargain in town, and you’re still having to fund-raise to make it work. There is a cost, but if you add to the cost another fee for parents, that is concerning.”
The funding request will be on the agenda at the board’s July 19 meeting.