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Parents Fight Arts Cuts in D. 65

As part of a plan to reduce the budget following a failed referendum in March, District 65 has proposed to cut some full-time arts teachers and share more arts teachers among schools. Parents say those cuts would hit low income schools hardest.

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.

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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.  

 

Richard Schulte May 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM
"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." 7 times 40 equals 280 minutes (4 hours, 40 minutes). Now that's a tough day-the art teachers must be exhausted at the end of the day. How much does this gig pay? Parents who think that the district shouldn't cut the number of art teachers should put their money where their mouth is-let them fork over the cash to pay the art teachers out of their own pocket if they want more art teachers. I remember the art classes that I had in junior high school-play time. Let our kids play on their own time. How about reading, writing and arithmetic instead? If parents think that their children need art classes, why not send their children to art classes on the weekend or after school? Enough of this nonsense.
Julie May 17, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Richard, you are way off base if you think a teacher's day is filled with nothing more than classroom instruction. A good teacher spends many additional hours on preparing lessons, student progress review, keeping in touch with parents, tutoring kids, keeping up with CE credits, etc. Well past your calculations of a less than 5 hour day. Furthermore, your comparison of art classes to "junior high school-play time" only trivializes the very disciplines you espouse seeing that art (much like its poor forgotten cousin, music) is crucial to a comprehensive education. Interdisciplinary concepts can be learned and reinforced via art by alternatively presenting what might be otherwise dry subjects to some students. Logic, proportion, ratio, optics, light refraction, fractals, etc. can all be applied through the use of art. So can literary expression and reading comprehension. Furthermore, there are collaborative movements right now that invite art into interdisciplinary spheres to establish a more inclusive style of study. Finally, it is morally reprehensible to suggest that parents pick up the tab for more art teachers. The cuts are geared toward some of the poorest schools in the district. Many of these families are suffering from ill-conceived and discriminatory systems forced upon them that will suppress their pushes to get ahead in this world. They struggle to put food on the table, pay bills and make it to the next month. We can certainly do better sir.
mij May 17, 2012 at 01:02 AM
So your saying force all students to take ART like it or not.
cheryl chamberlain May 17, 2012 at 01:55 AM
or, we could just refuse to give Hardy Murphy the adjusted cost of living increases designed to cover the price differential between Texas and Illinois, and use that towards the shortfall. After all, he has been here 11+ years. You would think by now he would have become accustomed to the higher cost of living, right?
JellyBean1 May 20, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Right on Cheryl- Needed- Board members ready to get rid of Hardy Murphy in 2013.
lucas May 24, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Do you really think getting rid of Hardy will solve all the financial problems of D65?

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