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By a straw poll, a majority of the District 65 School Board agreed to save the position of one fine-arts teacher so that the fine-arts program at the District’s Title I schools will be the same next year as it was last year.

As part of its deficit reduction strategies, District 65 administrators proposed reducing the number of fine-arts teachers by 3.5 teachers. As initially planned, there would be four fine-arts periods per week at the K-5 grade levels, which is a reduction from five periods at some schools. In addition, fine-arts teachers would be expected to teach 1,400 minutes per week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This would bring them more into line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers.

Many Oakton and Dawes parents 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.

Elliot Frolichstein-Appel, who served two-years as co-president of Dawes PTA, summed up the views expressed by many parents at Board and Committee meetings in the last few months.

“Our experience at Dawes, which we know is similar in many other D65 schools, is that those art and music teachers are critical in providing continuity and a strong sense of community within a school, and their work in and out of class is often what really engages students in learning,” Mr. Frolichstein-Appel said. “This is particularly important for kids whose families can’t afford private music or art classes, as they are often the same kids whose achievement we are concerned about. Keeping these kids excited about school can contribute more to their academic success than adding a little time with a reading specialist.”

In response to these concerns, School Board President Katie Bailey urged at the Finance Committee meeting on June 11 that the District provide a full-time fine-arts teacher at the District’s four Title I schools. She also asked that the administration provide an analysis of the additional amount it would cost the District to make this adjustment.

At the School Board’s meeting on June 18, Ellen Fogelberg presented a plan to add back one fine-arts teacher. Under the revised plan, she said the fine-arts staffing levels at the Title I schools – Dawes, Oakton, Walker and Washington – will be the same in the 2012-13 school year as it was last year.

In addition, under the revised plan, each of the Title I schools will be required to designate a fine-arts coordinator who will coordinate the fine arts and enrichment programs in the building, coordinate with the PTA to provide enrichment and fine-arts programs in the building, provide intervention support to students, and support the school-wide implementation of PBIS.

The estimated financial impact of adding one-fine arts teacher is about $53,000 for the 2012-13 school year, according to data presented by Kathy Zalewski, comptroller.

Board member Richard Rykhus said he thought there was some flexibility in the budget to allow for bringing back all the fine-arts teachers. “I think we really need to look at maintaining fine arts and music at the current levels,” he said.

The cost to reinstate 3.5 fine arts teachers and 2.5 physical education teachers was estimated at about $300,000 per year, according to data presented by Ms.Zalewski.

Board President Katie Bailey took a middle-of-the-road position. She said she favored the administration’s revised plan to add back one fine-arts teacher and
mantain the fine-arts program at the
Title 1 schools.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki expressed frustration with the process. She said Board members appeared to accept most of the deficit reduction strategies totaling more than $4 million for the
2012-13 school year, except for the cuts in fine-arts teachers and aides serving the Two-Way Immersion program. “Those were the wrong areas to make cuts, she said. “What frustrates me is we haven’t been given any other options. It seems
to me there have to be other areas for those cuts.”

Board member Andy Pigozzi said the District’s financial trajectory is “unsustainable,” and it will not be easier to make tough decisions going forward. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the arts,” he said, “But I think we have to be fiscally responsible.”

Ms. Bailey polled the Board, and four members said they would like one fine-arts teacher added back to enable restoring the fine-arts program to the level it was in the 2011-12 school year.

A motion made by Mr. Rykhus to restore the fine-arts program to the level it was last year at all schools failed by a 5 – 2 vote, with he and Ms. Quattrocki casting the only “yes” votes.