Arts staffing stymies D65 budgeters

The Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board had little trouble with administration suggestions for balancing the proposed 2012-2013 budget until it took on the staffing of fine arts instruction in the elementary schools.

The administration thought it had found the solution by moving art, music, and drama teachers around from school to school, and by reducing their free planning times.
In this manner, they could essentially maintain the same number of minutes of fine arts classroom time per student while cutting 3.5 teachers from the payroll.
This did not set well, either with board members Tracy Quattrocki, Katie Bailey, and Richard Rykhus, or with parents from Dawes and Oakton, who value having a fulltime arts teacher that they don’t have to share with other schools.
The parents explained that fine arts requires a great deal of time outside the classroom—rehearsing for plays and concerts and setting up art exhibits, for example—so that they feel a sense of loyalty and dedication to the students in those schools.
They particularly expressed an assumption that art pays off in many ways, particularly for minority students and those from low-income families whose lives are altered for the better by the skills they learn through participation in the arts.
The administration acknowledged that research indicates a “demonstrated relationship between study in the fine arts and literacy and language development” and did not contest research cited by parents that music skills aid in the understanding of mathematical concepts.
But Superintendent Hardy Murphy insisted that “we have a lot of fine arts in this district and we have a strong fine arts program.”  He added: “We value the fine arts, and we think we’ve come up with a program that works.”
The committee asked the superintendent and his staff to go back to the drawing boards and to come up with an alternate plan for consideration by the committee when it holds its final meeting on the 2012-2013 budget next month.
The committee had similar reservations for an administration suggestion that the number of classroom aides be reduced slightly in the Two Way Immersion (TWI) program, which puts English-speaking and native Spanish-speaking students in the same class with the aim of developing proficiency in both languages by students enrolled in the program.
Ms. Quattrocki noted that outcomes on standardized tests had indicated a decline in the language scores of TWI students and wondered whether it made sense to reduce the teaching support without coming up with a plan to enhance the effectiveness of the program.
 

Comments

Band concert fans

We were at a Dewey/Washington/Lincoln band and orchestra concert tonight which had nearly 200 students playing instruments of all sorts.  These kinds of opportunities for enrichment are sorely needed for kids and it was a wonderful night for D65.  Kudos to the Board for questioning the reduction in planning time for these events.  Unless the administration can demonstrate this planning time is an unwise or unnecessary use of teacher time, I agree it is appropriate to be skeptical.

Art funding

Though Richard Ryhkus, Tracy Quattrocki, and Katie Bailey spoke out against these cuts at the board finance meeting, Murphy said there would be no change. The D65 administration is billing these cuts as "programmatic changes", but make no mistake, they are cuts. The loss of 6+ fine arts teachers and the decrease in planning time is something that will negatively impact every single school in the district.  Teachers will no longer have time for all-school projects or after school clubs.
Any forward thinking, leading edge school administration would be familiar with current research regarding how a STRONG Fine Arts curriculum positively impacts cognitive development. They would also take seriously what über-successful & innovative corporations like Apple say about how creativity is one of the most prized qualities they look for in employees. They look for art training on resumes. 
It's very disturbing that Murphy is ignoring the board, the public and all current research. I guess we shouldn't expect so much for a mere 279k a year.

Arts funding

Maybe cuts in fine arts programming will spur applications to the King Literary and Fine Arts School from arts-minded families, easing overcrowding in the regular schools.

Fine Arts

Yes, it will also be affected by the cuts, but there is more fine arts and literary integration into the curriculum at the Fine Arts School than at regular schools.  Ask a teacher.

All D65 schools will be affected

Applying for King Lab isn't a solution because they'll be affected by the cuts too! Ask a teacher!

Eliminate TWI

The TWI program, the Af-Am curriculum and all the funds spent on intervention are not creating the scores needed to justify their continued existence.  In fact, these expenditures are taking money away from Arts and Music and smaller class sizes for all the rest of the D65 students. 
Eliminate all these entitlement programs now.

TWI is not an extra expense

FYI, the TWI program is not an extra expense to the district.  The district is obligated by law to service these students in their native language.  The district moved  to TWI many years ago and has saved money.  Before, English language learners (Spanish dominant) were in regular classrooms.  Bilinugal teachers, sometimes 3 to each building site that had bilingual, were hired to either push in to classrooms to offer support or pull out.  The move to TWI saved the district money because bilingual teachers were no longer necessary.   The homeroom TWI teacher services all students English and Spanish dominant.  Also, there were aides back then also.   The district receives money from the state to service the students and I believe TWI teachers are paid with that money.  So really, elimanating TWI will not save the district money.  These students would be pushed back into gen ed classes and bilingual teachers would have to be hired to service them, plus additional general education teachers may have to be hired to take in the new students depending on how many students there are at the grade level at each school. 
On the other hand, I do question the ACC program.  I am not sure when there are 9-11 children sitting in a classroom, that is the best use of funds. The program has had lots of difficulties recruting students to fill the classrooms.   I also feel there is a lack of documentation about the effectiveness of the program, academically and socailly. 
 

Administrative response (or, rather, the lack thereof...)

From: Jason Hays <[email protected]>
To: [email protected]
Sent: Sat, May 19, 2012 6:05:34 PM
Subject: Frustration with administrative response...
Board Members:
In a very thoughtful, clear manner, an email from PTA presidents at Dawes laid out concerns that many of us with children attending D65 schools have had.  I particularly appreciated their differentiation between treating fine arts and PE teachers as FTE "wage-slaves" (my wording, not theirs!) and professional educators--as well as highlighting their value as informal resources due to their interactions with ALL students at a given school.
Sadly, Dr. Murphy's response instead focused on how the AMOUNT of art instruction for students will not change under this new proposal, with no attention to the detriment to the QUALITY of that instruction.
So, is the idea to water down the effectiveness and quality of the arts education program so much, that the educational benefits disappear and thus clear a path to eliminate them altogether? 
Sadly another issue is lost in the shuffle and turmoil over changes to the fine arts instruction model (which is understandable, since those will impact ALL students.)  Namely, the decision to leave vacancies in the special education and support staff positions unfilled will put a huge strain on our most vulnerable students--these are children whose parents may not have the ability or time to advocate on behalf of their kids by virtue on having their hands full just coping with raising a special needs child.
These parents have neither the time resources, nor the sheer numbers to get the message out that these cuts will severely impact the educational experience of their children.  And, with the inclusion model currently in place, rest assured, these cuts WILL have a negative impact on ALL students, as teacher resources and co-taught classrooms get watered down so much so that teaching time will be negatively impacted by having to deal with instructional interruptions.
Please find other ways to address these tangled budgetary issues.  I would rather see programs cut altogether, rather than be starved and strangled into complete wastes of time, energy, and resources.
Jason Hays
Washington Elementary parent
 

Budget?

I find it strange that now the D65 budget suddenly needs trimming in all of these programs. Cutting Special Ed is just plain immoral and probably illegal.
But somehow, when promoting the referendum for a new school, we were assured that there was enough money to operate it. I'll be charitable and just assume that there's something I've missed or don't understand.