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.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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