RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school district reluctantly eliminated its elementary school music program in 2009 because of budget deficits.
Now, with its most pressing money woes in the rearview mirror, the district will spend about $200,000 to bring instrumental music back to a few schools, with the hope of restoring the entire program if more money becomes available.
The school board Wednesday evening chose Washington, Stege, Kensington, Madera, Harding, Fairmont and Mira Vista elementary schools, which feed into Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, to receive the programs next fall, along with a second group of schools to be selected later.
Two full-time teachers and a half-time teacher will be hired to teach the classes, which involve taking students out of their regular classes for music instruction during the school day.
"There's a tremendous desire to bring back something we all miss," board member Charles Ramsey said.
Ramsey argued successfully in favor of concentrating the limited money on a few schools instead of trying to spread it over the entire district.
"We need to start somewhere," he said. "I'm not supporting mediocrity, not supporting dilution."
Ramsey vowed to bring music back to the elementary schools that feed into Portola at a March 27 meeting for current and potential Portola parents. Several parents at that meeting urged the board to restore music programs to the Portola feeder schools, saying they were needed to complement the academic and arts programs at Portola and El Cerrito High School.
Board member Randy Enos expressed concerns about limiting the program to a few schools but voted for the plan.
"I want music for every school in the district," Enos said. "It's got to work for everybody."
In a rare split vote, the board also approved $60,000 to $100,000 for a "Scholar in Residence" to bring a perspective on the latest in academic research to the district's instruction.
The concept was initiated by board member Todd Groves, who said the district needs "someone from a university to give us some feedback."
"We need someone who is current in scholarship, with knowledge of what is going on nationally," Groves said.
Groves explained that the San Francisco and Boston school districts have hired scholars in residence and benefited from receiving an informed outside perspective about what they are and are not doing well.
He said he would prefer that the scholar concentrate on analyzing curriculum and teaching methods in the district's middle schools, where academic performance begins to stall for many students.
Groves, board President Madeline Kronenberg and Ramsey voted for the program, while Enos and Elaine Merriweather voted no.
"Shouldn't we look at our processes internally before bringing someone else in?" Enos asked. "I don't see any form in it. It's important to rethink this."
The board also honored five Teachers of the Year who were selected from 24 nominees. They included Nathan Jackson of DeJean Middle School, Beth Levine of Montalvin Manor Elementary, Steve Mainini of Kennedy High, Mike Mannix of Richmond High and Eric Verpraukus of Lincoln Elementary.
All the schools are in Richmond, except for Montalvin Manor, which is in San Pablo.
The district has nominated Levine and Mainini as candidates for Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year recognition.
The board also ratified a $43 million contract with Novato-based Arntz Builders to construct a new Portola Middle School on the site of the now-closed Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito. Portola has been operating in portable classrooms for about three years after its old building was condemned because of seismic and safety concerns.
The project will begin immediately, with completion expected in about two years.