A plan to reduce the number of arts teachers in District 65 and share them among schools as a way of saving money doesn’t sit well with some parents, who say that robust arts programming is critical to their kids’ success. At a meeting of the finance committee Monday night, both parents and members of the board asked the administration to take a second look at proposed cuts.
mom Geri Smith was among several parents who attended the meeting to protest the district’s plan.
“When you have itinerant teachers, the programs are just not as strong,” Smith told Patch.
As part of its plan to balance the 2012-13 budget, the district has proposed to reduce its fine arts and physical education staff by six positions. Four of those cuts would be made through staff retiring or leaving the district, while art teachers at Dawes and Bessie Rhodes elementary schools have been notified that their jobs are on the line.
The district is already sharing some art and music teachers among schools, but proposed cuts would mean that every art teacher travels to a different school at least once a week. Each art teacher would have seven 40-minute classes per day, instead of six, meaning students would have the same amount of time with teachers, but teachers would have shorter planning periods. While six schools already have shared arts teachers, , Oakton, and have had full-time art and music staff up to this point.
District 65 spokesperson Pat Markham stressed that the plan is designed to maintain arts education in the schools with as little fallout to students as possible.
“The recommendations do not eliminate fine arts, they don’t eliminate students' opportunities for arts, music drama, PE. None of those things are going away,” Markham told Patch. “Tough decisions are not always popular and we are very sensitive to and understand that these programs are important.”
At Monday night's meeting, members of the finance committee said they were concerned with how the cuts might affect students at the lowest-income schools, particularly Oakton and . More than half of students at both schools qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Under the adminstration's proposal for fine arts allocation next year, Oakton would lose its full-time teacher one day a week, while at Dawes' art teacher would be there just three days a week, instead of four.
“I’ve been very happy sending my kids [to Oakton], but we have more challenges,” Smith said. “We need those teachers in our building full time.”
Oakton’s art teacher, for example, lets students sit in her classroom during some lunch periods, offers an after school pottery and gardening class and participates in the school’s mentorship program for students who have behavioral issues.
“They’re woven into things in a way that people who aren’t in our building kind of can’t grasp,” Smith said.
She and other parents also stress the importance of arts education as a point of entry to learning for students who may not otherwise be excited about school.
“We know just from experience and from research that sometimes what hooks a kid into getting really excited about school and learning, it might be music, it might be art—it might not be math,” Dawes PTA co-president Elliot Frolichstein-Appel told Patch on Tuesday. “You lever on that to get the kid excited about learning over all.”
Having one teacher at one school is also important, says Frolichstein-Appel, because if teachers are spread more thinly, he and other parents fear it will affect the collaborations among teachers and the interaction with kids.
“It’s that many more hundreds of kids whose names they have to learn, whose personalities they have to learn,” Frolichstein-Appel said. “How they’re forming those collaborations is different when they’re meeting a whole new building staff.”
The next regularly scheduled meeting in District 65 is the board of education meeting next Monday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave. The finance committee meets again on Monday, June 11.