Fifth-grader Riley Travers of Westwood Elementary School tooted her flute. Concord High senior Adam Zaves hoisted his tuba for a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful."
His classmate Lizbeth Brown has broken out in tears and song as she explained the importance of music in her life at the past three board meetings.
"I can't believe this is legal, that you can take all this money away," said Brown, 17, at Tuesday's board meeting. "I'm just mad."
Their pleas, alternately distressed and playful, seemed to work.
Four of five Mt. Diablo school board members voted to take elementary school music off the list of potential budget cuts along with freshman sports.
"I'm elated," said Jacqueline Travers, Riley's mother and a supporter of the district music program. "I thought this would fall on deaf ears."
While the decision sent up cheers in the auditorium at Monte Gardens Elementary School, where the board met, other areas fell victim to budget cuts.
Library funding was cut by 20 percent to save nearly $190,000 in 2008-09. Eliminating nearly 20 kindergarten teachers will shave costs by almost $520,000.
All in all, the school board approved layoff notices for 100 teachers and administrators who may be laid off or reassigned to different duties in the coming school year.
This was the sixth round of budget reductions in Mt. Diablo since leaders in the 35,000-student district began cost-cutting in December. Since then, the board has approved trimming more than $15 million from a $300 million spending plan, or roughly 5 percent.
As part of the reductions, librarians will now teach one class and spend less time in the library. The cuts will hurt students the most, said Kit Hein, a librarian at College Park High School.
School libraries offer a safe place where students can do homework and finish assignments before and after school. Lower income students have access to computers and the Internet now considered standard for completing school work.
"This is about much more than 20 percent," she told the board.
Though school districts have until June 30 to pass their budgets for the next school year, they must balance their books before the end of this week to meet deadlines.
By March 15, districts must notify teachers that they may lose their jobs or be reassigned to different campuses or duties. By that date, school districts also must turn in budgets to county offices of education charged with monitoring the financial health of local districts.
Despite the bloodletting, Mt. Diablo administrators said the district still may not meet all its financial obligations for the next three school years.
Ever wary of the state's and the district's precarious fiscal standing, school board member Linda Mayo cast the sole vote against taking music and sports off the cut list.
"I don't believe we are through with budget cuts yet," she said.
Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.