When school districts contemplate budget cuts, well-meaning board members often target instrumental music education as nothing more than a pleasant diversion from the more serious work of learning reading and math. Thus, the ax falls, and band programs are dropped. But a Chicago firm has demonstrated that privatization is another option to consider.
In the early 1980s, an enterprising Chicago musician, John Mose, created Music Education Services Inc. (MES), a private company that combines a mobile music store, repair shop, recruitment center, and certified instruction all under one roof. In the 1997-98 school year, some 2,500 students in more than 80 public and private schools were participating in MES programs.
The company first served private and parochial schools almost exclusively, with about 350 student participants. In 1994, however, Mose mail-solicited public schools, hoping to contract with just one to prove that his program would work in the public sector. The results far exceeded his expectations.
“We ended up adding twelve public schools,” said Mose. “Once people see that the program is working in those buildings, the public school market will be an increasingly large one for us.”
According to MES employee Lori Zlotow, the contracted schools use a variety of funding mechanisms. In some cases, the entire cost of the program is paid by involved parents through a yearly band tuition, with the schools making no contribution. Other schools fund half the program and bill the band parents for the rest. Some schools fund the program entirely, with no parent contributions.
“It has proven a huge success when many previous programs have failed,” noted Zlotow.
Two years ago, when $1.4 million was cut in West Chicago Elementary School District #33, MES was hired to fill the gap. During its two years of service in the district, the MES program has been funded entirely through a parental tuition plan; the district provides only school time and facilities. District Superintendent John Hennig noted that parents have been very supportive of the program, and that the teachers were very involved in all deliberations.
“We did have the potential that the union would have filed an unfair labor practice,” said Hennig, “but that would have meant there would have been no program at all.”
Music Education Services has won praise from the public and private sectors. “It succeeds because of John,” stated Eileen Gully, principal of Chicago’s Holy Ghost School. “He cares a lot about music and what kids focus on with music.”
John Mose, president of Music Education Services Inc., can be reached at 630/617-2263, or by e-mail at [email protected].