Oak Park schools old musical instruments are out of tune

District spends $83,000 on replacements

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The music's over for all those old instruments in use, and some not being used, at Oak Park elementary school District 97.

It was just time to replace many of the instruments, some of which are more than 50 years old, says Pam Wiese, a music teacher at Longfellow Elementary School, 715 S. Highland. Some of the instruments, like several pianos floating around the district's 10 schools, have been around since the 1960s. Those new instruments come with a hefty price tag: just over $83,000.

The D97 Board of Education is set to vote on the instrument bid this week.

The schools will receive nearly 100 new instruments — cellos, trombones, tubas, bass drums, and digital pianos, among other instruments. Brooks and Julian middle schools will each keep their grand pianos. Some schools also use portable keyboards. But all of the old, boxy, pedal pianos will be replaced with digital ones.

But these are not flat, portable, keyboard pianos, Wiese stressed. The brand the district is buying looks like a traditional piano. There is some loss of sound quality compared to acoustic pianos, she said, but the digital ones are the best option for the district financially. Some of the current pianos aren't even being used. The company providing the digital pianos will remove and dispose of those 21 old pianos.

"Our instruments do need to be replaced, but to get a good quality acoustic instrument, we were looking at double the price," Wiese said.

The new pianos total roughly $29,000. The string and wind/percussion instruments come in around $12,000 and about $32,800 respectively. Another $14,000 is for such "miscellaneous" items as bass drums, cymbals and xylophones. The digital pianos don't require the same kind of tuning and maintenance as acoustic versions, Wiese said.

A 20-year instructor in D97, Wiese, who teaches general music and vocal skills, remembers when students learned by reading their music books and following along with the teacher who would play on the piano. Those times have changed, she said.

Every primary music class in the district has a piano. In her third-floor classroom at Longfellow, Wiese's students also use other instruments, like smaller xylophones. Her class uses instruments to learn about rhythm, movement and language arts. Other classes focus more on teaching kids how to play instruments and performance.

"The students are making their own music and learning by playing," said Wiese, adding that she and other music teachers in the district do play instruments are varying skill levels. "I'm not a skilled pianist; some of the pianists wanted to keep some of their acoustic instruments, and they will," said Wiese, explaining that some current instruments still work fine.

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OP Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: September 20th, 2012 8:07 PM

On another note....would any instruments, such as pianos, be up for public sale?


Posted: September 16th, 2012 6:13 PM

There's really a simple solution here: vouchers. There's typically one group that hates the voucher idea: teachers unions. Otherwise, it sounds like nobody on this board would object if I took my $13.5k and paid for Catholic school. Well, $8.5k for Catholic school. I'd use the balance for swimming lessons, an instrument and penmanship lessons.


Posted: September 16th, 2012 4:45 PM

well, then, you should be very happy, because none of my kids have seen an ipad or fastforword in the schools. I am, however, extremely pleased the broken playground equipment has been fixed. I have to say, I am pleased with the tenor (no pun intended!) of the conversation here for the most part. The article is about musical instruments, and I am happy for the kids who can use them, that they are usable.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 16th, 2012 2:36 PM

I actually see music&art as a need, as well, but I resent the fact that they are held hostage any time the schools ask for more money. What's NOT a need are iPads, digital classrooms, million $ playgrounds, FastForWord, etc. I see a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility as needs as well...but that's not going to happen. So I don't begrudge the new instruments...just the lack of discipline overall as shown in hundreds of ways throughout the year. When's the next referendum? Soon, no doubt


Posted: September 16th, 2012 9:14 AM

I also have to send kudos the the WJ staff for knowing that any time they say D97 has spent anything on our heathens, that it will draw out the people who resent any expenditure on their behalf. Go ad staff!


Posted: September 16th, 2012 9:12 AM

Music and art are needs. I realize you and I disagree on this. Creativity is vital for the world to move forward. And I don't think the world is going to fall apart because D97 kids have musical instruments that are in tune.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 16th, 2012 6:17 AM

@Ref: but by continually raising property taxes to fund public school "wants" instead of needs, some are prevented from private options. At some point, families can't afford to pay absurd taxes AND get their kids the education that works best for them. Which leads us to OPRF Res's point: you're right that private schools are not filled exclusively with OP families. That's called diversity. And many are deliberate in avoiding high OP taxes, but send their kids to good OP private schools.

Brooks parent  

Posted: September 15th, 2012 11:17 AM

Thanks all for the thoughtful discussion. I can see Another OPRF Dad's point about fewer distractions. Perhaps similar to attending a small private college where everyone is highly motivated.

OPRF Resident  

Posted: September 15th, 2012 9:10 AM

I believe everyone has a right to send their kids wherever they choose for whatever reason. But, not all OP private schools are filled with OP families. Many come from Chicago (St. Giles) or other suburbs (Fenwick). And please don't believe that behavior issues are dealt with that well in private schools. Bullying is alive and well there too. For me, public schools have been great for my kids. I do think the kids learn how to handle life better. That's just my opinion.


Posted: September 15th, 2012 7:17 AM

I would never begrudge a parent from choosing the private option. Every family, every child, has different needs, and sometimes the public schools aren't the right place. Our girls went private for a while but the small class size didn't work for them. They wanted a wider range and number of friends. The public schools haven't been perfect, but neither were private. It really depends on what works for you and your kids. My kids really enjoy the community schools now.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 15th, 2012 5:15 AM

@Brooks parent:I can only answer for myself and my family, but...(1) faith-based education, (2) great environment (zero tolerance for behavior issues that is enforced), (3) smaller school/class sizes, (4) a tight knit group of parents, (4) middle schoolers are given responsibilities to "mentor" younger kids which guides them to be a role model. With positive climate & fewer distractions, kids feel safe and get more time for learning. Yes, it can all happen at any school, but sometimes doesn't.

Brooks parent  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 10:52 PM

OPRF Dads, I am curious, why spend the money to go the Catholic school route in OP? Is it to avoid mingling with the riff raff, or is it because you believe the academics are better in Catholic school? I'm finding that because my kid is motivated and self-directed, he is learning a lot. He has excellent teachers and is able to ignore the kids who don't come to school to learn. There are a lot of kids at Brooks who do that. So it's not necessary to "flee" if your child has his priorities straight


Posted: September 14th, 2012 9:51 PM

D97 kids don't need musical instruments that aren't broken? That's a new one on me. And by that they don't mean instruments the kids rent, they mean pianos for chorus concerts, xylophones for music classes. I'm glad D97 values music instruction, even for heathens. Have fun fleeing.


Posted: September 14th, 2012 9:13 PM

So back to another's question, Sharon, how about letting us taxpayers use our tax dollars to educate our kids how we want rather than blowing money on stuff your kids don't need? And look at the enrollment in the area Catholic schools and middle school transfers to Catholic schools - people are, in fact, fleeing. The actual, as opposed to your anecdotal, numbers tell the story.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 3:59 PM

Must have been an updating issue... when I responded, I couldn't see "flee"...which I think is an overstatement. I think characterizing kids as "heathens" is wrong and unfortunate. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinions, however....


Posted: September 14th, 2012 7:39 AM

And really, Another, read what OPRF Dad is saying. I don't care what school you send your kids to. But when someone calls my kids "heathens" and says people "flee" the system, this isn't an issue of ME being intolerant. In any case, I am glad D97 is replacing their old, broken instruments.


Posted: September 14th, 2012 7:36 AM

@ Another: OPRF Dad said: "you can't deny the middle school problem in OP - people flee the middle schools." Sure looks like that was the word he used.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 7:07 AM

@Sharon: No one here has said "flee". I said that the middle schools have issues. Btw, the middle schools are often cited by private school parents as a key reason their kids aren't in public school. It's not a "diaspora", many kids never enter the system. I respect your choice to put three kids through D97....why don't you respect mine to put my kids where they will thrive? And why can't my kids benefit from the taxes I pay by receiving cooperation from village and district?


Posted: September 14th, 2012 7:01 AM

And OPRF Dad, I am glad you are admitting you used "heathens" intentionally. Definition: "derogatory. A person who does not belong to a widely held religion (esp. one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim) as regarded...: "bringing Christianity to the heathens" I am so glad your children don't have to mingle with the heathens, at least at school.


Posted: September 14th, 2012 6:56 AM

"People flee the middle schools" --really? I'm on my third kid in the middle schools, and I know of two people who transferred to private schools. Hardly the diaspora you are describing.


Posted: September 14th, 2012 6:44 AM

"Heathens" was intentional, but you can't deny the middle school problem in OP - people flee the middle schools. When people throw in the towel for one of the most developmental portions of kids' lives, that's not an effective system.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 6:41 AM

"Heathens" may have been strong, but recognize the issues of the middle schools. Also, all the OPRF private school families have to do to protest is send their kids, en masse and unannounced, to their respective public schools. Not only don't the public schools have the space for the extra kids, but they also don't have budget (since they take our taxes now, but don't actually educate our kids). Public schools should be thanking private school families daily for their open ended funding.

Another OPRF Dad from OP  

Posted: September 14th, 2012 6:34 AM

I'm with OPRFDad in part. D97 does need to get in touch with wants vs. needs and does need to deal with persistent issues at the middle schools. Private schools in OP get very little cooperation or support from the Village or the district. And to say all private school families "think they are better" is simply untrue. We are all allowed to make the choices we think best for our children. Private schools families pay for that privilege while public school families charge everyone else for it.


Posted: September 12th, 2012 10:11 PM

Heathens? Really? Huh.


Posted: September 12th, 2012 9:00 PM

D97 IS footing the bill for this and it is not unnecessary! Way to go district on showing that the arts ARE important to a solid education and finding ways to think outside of a textbook! @OPRFDad, you are choosing to pay more and leave the GREAT education that D97 offers! The entire reason I asked my parents to take me out of private schooling was to escape people like you who think they deserve better than everybody else!


Posted: September 12th, 2012 8:26 PM

And yet, taxpayers in OP who send their kids to private schools to avoid the heathens in the latter grades can't get basic services for kids with needs or a crossing guard. It's time for private school families to start organizing and putting pressure on D97 and D200. Instruments are a necessity or a right. D97 should foot the bill for this and all other unnecessaries.

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