With loss of Title I funds, Whittier Elementary's treasured piano program at risk
Piano program is at risk for SLC school that broke poverty threshold and lost $145K in Title I funds.
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At Whittier Elementary, a treasured piano program shares the joy of music with students — from kindergartners who learn about rhythm to sixth graders who study composers and can play at weekly lessons.

But Whittier is losing its federal Title I funding, which supports low-income students, and the change has parents scrambling to save the Youth Enrichment Foundation Piano Program.

"The benefits of learning music at a young age are well known and include higher ACT and SAT scores," said Mindy Tueller, Whittier PTA treasurer, in an email.

The program has been funded by the school's discretionary funds and donations from the community, said Principal Margery Parker. But she told the parent-teacher organization that with the loss of $144,875in Title I funds, she can no longer provide the school's usual share.

The federal funds are allocated to school districts based on the number of children they have living in poverty. Each Utah district then decides where to set its own qualifying poverty rate for schools, calculated by the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

The Salt Lake City School District splits its Title I funds among 19 schools where 66.5 percent of students are considered poor, sending between $300 and $830 for each student in poverty. The number of such students at Whittier has slipped below that threshold.

By comparison, the Jordan School District sends up to $2,535 per student, concentrating its funding in six schools that meet its qualifying poverty rate of 50 percent or higher.

The Salt Lake City School District gives schools time to adjust when they lose funding, said spokesman Jason Olsen.

"As demographics and things change those [Title I] schools can change," he said. "It is a financial constraint on some schools, but something they know about for awhile."

Bryant Middle School now qualifies under the district's standard and will begin receiving the funding this fall, he said.

Officials estimate Whittier's music program has been offered to students for at least 18 years, and Freightliner of Utah Trucking Company is its major donor.

To help raise the $10,000 needed to save it, a walkathon will be held on Friday. The community may donate by clicking on: Whittierelementary.jbfsecure.com/.

Music teacher Colette Lofgren said the community comes together once a year for the student piano recital.

"The students dress in concert dress, learn concert manners, announce in front of an audience and perform a piano solo," Lofgren said. "It's a big moment for these students, and they feel so proud."

Parker downplayed the impact of the loss of Title 1 money. In some ways, she said, Whittier Elementary is a victim of its own academic success. Located at 1600 S. 300 East, it has seen student academic scores increasing the past several years. Title I money is often used to boost academic programs, such as adding staff, after-school tutoring and math and reading labs.

"We're going to be able to operate just like we used to," Parker said. "The school districts know what schools are in need the most."

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @rayutah —

How to help Whittier Elementary

To help raise the $10,000 needed to save Whittier Elementary School's Youth Enrichment Foundation Piano Program, the school's PTA plans a Friday walk-a-thon. Donate at Whittierelementary.jbfsecure.com. —

How Utah districts divvy up Title I dollars

The federal government allocates Title I funding to school districts based on their number of low-income students. Utah districts divvy it up, setting the qualifying poverty level — the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price meals — for schools.

Alpine School District

District set poverty threshold at 57.1 percent

38 schools are eligible

$942 per student in poverty is sent to 11 schools.

Canyons School District

District set poverty threshold at 72.9 percent

19 schools are eligible

$1,400 per student in poverty is sent to four schools

Davis School District

District set poverty threshold at 40 percent

41 schools are eligible

$778 per student in poverty is sent to 18 schools

Granite School District

District set poverty threshold at 71.2 percent

54 schools are eligible.

Between $945 to $1,471 per student in poverty is sent to 17 schools

Jordan School District

District set poverty threshold at 50 percent

24 schools are eligible

Between $845 to $2,535 per student in poverty is sent to six schools

Salt Lake City School District

District set poverty threshold at 66.5 percent

21 schools are eligible

Between $300 to $830 per student in poverty is sent to 19 schools

Source: Salt Lake City School District, 2012-13 school year