No art cuts? School board plans to keep funding for teachers

There might not be any cuts to elementary art teachers after all. 
Without a formal vote, the Board of Education said at its Feb. 11 meeting that it would seek to put $109,000 back into the proposed 2019-20 school budget after parents and staff protested a reduction in hours for the district’s six elementary art teachers.
The additional funding for elementary art teachers would not increase the proposed $98.3-million school budget, several board members said. The board agree to wait to find the money in other cost-savings strategies before taking a final vote.
“We’ve heard a lot about art, is that something we can find an alternative to?” asked board member Jim Keidel, who noted that the proposed cuts are about $109,000 in $98.3-million budget.
The proposed budget is a 3.43% increase over the 2018-19 school budget. 
The proposed cuts would have eliminated about 20% of each of the six teachers’ time, essentially reducing them from full-time to part-time employees.
“So what I am hearing around the table is … the 3.43[%] is the number we’re still comfortable with,” said Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “What about the $109,000 for the art teachers? Are we going to add that on, or were we going to say to the administration keep it at the 3.43 and hope that some efficiencies can be used to offset the $109,000?”
Board member Jonathan Steckler he agreed with that plan. 
“I think we can keep to the 3.43[%],” he said
Funding the $109,000 to keep the art teachers full-time would be the first priority, Stamatis said.
“So long as there’s a curriculum implementation model for it,” said Vice Chairman Doug Silver.
Original proposal
The proposed reduction in art teacher hours come from Interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote’s 2019-20 budget proposal. Paddyfote said the cuts would apply to time the teachers spend doing prep work — loading kilns, preparing clay, cleaning up and preparing materials, lesson planning, and meeting with PTA members. 
“No one is trying to devalue what the art teachers do here. But is there consistency across the six schools? No,” said Paddyfote
Because the activities and programs the six art teachers undertake are not consistent across all six schools, some board members appeared hesitant to fund the positions as full time without new curriculum.
“I’m reluctant to go forward with it unless you can really make it [a full-time equivalent position],” said board member Fran Walton. “We have to have a rationale as to why this position stays.” 
Silver said he was not against putting the money back in the budget.
“If the Board of Education wants to overfund art … I think that’s a curriculum decision,” he said, with a nod toward Assistant Superintendent Craig Creller, who oversees curriculum for the district.
He suggested art could be another way to engage students in the material they’re studying. 
Three parents said they were opposed to cutting art during public comments at the start of the meeting. 
“We cannot continue to speak out of both sides of our mouth, applauding the successes of our schools while at the same time spending the least amount of money per pupil in our District Reference Group,” said Laurie Bellagamba of Spruce Wood Lane. 
She was referring to a socioeconomic and performance grouping the state uses to determine funding for schools. 
“Please keep cuts away from our staffing,” she added.
Cybele Maylone, executive director of the Aldrich Museum, said the elementary art teachers’ partnership with the museum provides a huge amount of opportunities for students.
“None of this work would be possible without the incredible art teachers,” said Maylone, who’s also a parent of a second grader. 
“I was really pleased to move from New York City and find that [my daughter] was given the opportunity to participate in classes, or specials, that were comparable to what we were receiving in New York City,” she added. 
Maylone said she hoped the opportunity continues.
“If elementary art positions are cut by 20%, the quality of what our children are learning, breathing, exploring, and discovering is also cut by 20%,” said Alana DeVito, an art teacher at Barlow Mountain Elementary School, and the parent of a Ridgebury Elementary School student. 
“Eighty percent of a strong arts program is not what I want for my own children, for those I currently teach, and for those that I will teach in the future,” she added. “They deserve 100% of the program.”