Kathy Zalewski, comptroller for School District 65, presented a draft tentative budget for the 2012-13 school year at the School Board’s Finance Committee’s meeting on June 11. The tentative budget embodies the budget reduction strategies that have been discussed since February. The budget shows an operating surplus of $1.1 million for the year. 

The discussion at the Finance Committee narrowed to the proposed reduction of 3.5 fine-arts teachers. Administrators also presented some additional information about the supports that would be provided in light of the proposed reduction of six aides assigned to the Two-Way-Immersion (TWI) program. 

The Proposed Reduction of 3.5 Fine Arts Teachers

In previous meetings, Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said this year at the K-3 grade levels there are generally four periods (40 minutes each) of fine arts: art, music, library and enrichment (which is a rotation of art, music or library), for a total of 160 minutes per week.

At the fourth- and fifth-grade levels, she said, there is a total of 200 minutes of fine arts instruction due to an extension of an enrichment period to fourth and fifth grades that has occurred over time. This has resulted in the loss of 40 minutes of instructional time on core subjects per week at those grade levels, she said.

Next year, Ms. Schultz said, the administration is recommending four fine arts periods per week at the K-5 grade levels. This includes the addition of drama at the third-grade level. All grades will have four, 40-minute fine-arts classes per week, she said. “This ensures that adequate time is allocated to core content areas, and that elementary students have four fine-arts periods per week.”

Under the District’s plan, fine arts teachers will teach 1,400 minutes per week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This will bring them more in line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers, said Ms. Schultz in a prior meeting. This change and scheduling changes will enable the District to reduce the number of fine-arts teachers by 3.5.

Many Oakton and Dawes parents have protested the changes, saying that under the plan fine arts teachers would no longer be based at their schools, and their fine-arts program would be diminished. They say that many students, particularly students from low-income households, become engaged in school and learning through the fine-arts program.

Oakton parents added that two fine-arts teachers based at Oakton have played an integral role in building community at the school and have taken on a leadership role in PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports).

At the Finance Committee meeting on June 11, School Board President Katie Bailey urged that the District provide a full-time fine-arts teacher at the District’s four Title I schools, recognizing that the fine-arts teachers provide support to many students from low-income households and engage them in learning. She asked that the administration provide an analysis of the additional amount it would cost the District to make this adjustment in the budget proposal.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy defended the administration’s proposal. He said his role as superintendent is to present a budget that will provide financial stability for the District over the long term. In doing so, he said, he has been required to make tough decisions. He said that the administration has attempted to be sensitive to everyone’s concerns in developing the budget-reducing strategies, but added that the administrators did not see the proposed reductions in the fine-arts staff as being as significant as others do.

Board member Kim Weaver acknowledged that Title I schools may need more resources than other schools, but questioned whether the addition of a site-based fine arts teacher at those schools was the best way to address the issue. She asked whether adding a reading specialist may be a better use of the District’s resources.

Ms. Weaver also suggested that the PTAs of non-Title I schools partner with the PTAs of Title I schools in fund-raising efforts. She said this may reduce the levels of disparity between the schools and at the same time build community. 

The Committee asked Dr. Murphy to present a breakdown of the cost of providing a fine-arts teacher at each of the four Title I schools on a full-time basis at the June 18 School Board meeting. It is expected that the Board will decide the issue at that time.

The Proposed Reduction of TWI Aides

One other issue on which there has been disagreement is the proposed reduction of sixTWIaides. In several prior meetings, Tracy Quattrocki has opposed the reduction of those aides, saying they are essential to provide services to some of the most vulnerable students.

In a memorandum presented to the Finance Committee, administrators outlined some additional supports that would be provided to the TWI program. The memo states that six of the 12 aides currently serving the TWI program will remain and that they will be trained to provide more effective supports in the literacy program. In addition, the memo says an additional bilingual reading teacher will be added, so a bilingual reading specialist will be available for each strand of the TWI program.