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Coalition Hopes to Save the Arts at Schools

By Matt Wilhalme, 6/02/2011

Agreement With UTLA Reached, Saving Some Jobs


Unlike the final note of a concert at a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school, district arts teachers hope their struggle will not simply end with silence in the classroom.

LAUSD theatre teacher Suzanne Nichols is spearheading a fundraiser designed to keep arts programs open in schools. (photo by MAtt Wilhalme)

“All children have their strengths and if we are only speaking to one, the strictly academic, we are missing out on a huge portion of a student’s personality,” Suzanne Nichols, an LAUSD theater teacher, said.

On June 11, a coalition of teachers, parents and students led by Nichols will host a fundraising event at the Cocoanut Grove to “Save the Arts” in L.A. schools. The event will feature performances by jazz dancer Chester Whitmore and “American Idol” season seven contestant Michael Johns.

The Arts Education Branch requires more than $15 million for art instruction to remain at the same level throughout the district, according to Nichols.

“If the parent of every student paid twenty-five dollars, that would keep the education grant in the district,” Nichols said. “What’s happened over the years is money that was allocated to arts education has been pulled out and spent in other ways.”

In other budget news that could affect fundraising in the arts, on May 27, the Unified Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) reached a tentative agreement with the LAUSD. The prospective deal includes four furlough days on the condition that some, or all, could be removed if the district receives anticipated revenues from the state.

But if the budget shortfall is greater than expected, as many as two more furlough days could be added, for a total of six.

“If there is a huge decline in revenues, the district and all of its bargaining partners will be compelled to reopen negotiations,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement.

The UTLA had previously stated that every one of the 7,302 teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff who had received reduction in force (RIF) notices could have their jobs saved without taking further furloughs. Six unions are now on board with the district’s budget, with the Teamsters and the California School Employees Association being the only holdouts.

“I want to thank UTLA for working with us to provide a solution for next year that brings stability – and the majority of our employees – back to the classroom,” Deasy said, “I’m very pleased to be able to retain the current class sizes, and positions and programs such as magnet coordinators, School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP), Options program, arts programs, Library Media Teachers, and adult education at the 2010-11 level.”

The district’s original plan for the arts leveled cuts on more than 67 percent of theater, dance and music teachers at elementary schools, Nichols said. At some high schools, the programs would be eliminated altogether.

Now, based on the current conditions of the negotiation, if the unions and school board ratify the agreement, more than 134 jobs in the arts at the elementary level will be saved, Nichols said. But things will still be up in the air at the middle and high school level.

Next year, Steven Baxter, a LAUSD theater teacher for seven years, said there would be about 25 theater teachers to serve the more than 300,000 LAUSD students.

“All I can say is thank goodness they have reached some sort of agreement,” Baxter said. “I think ultimately, we got so used to the doomsday scenario, while most people are jumping for joy that only 1,600 are being let go, I am optimistic and hopeful that the tax revenue can save the other 20 percent.”

The new agreement for the 2011-2012 school year will restore more than 3,402 positions, including more than 1,722 elementary and secondary teachers and as many as 1,680 adult educators, arts educators, counselors and others.

One parent involved in the “Save the Arts” benefit, Angela Scribner, whose children attend Canfield Elementary, said money from the district is going to all the wrong places.

“Parents are trying to help, but we shouldn’t have to give that much to save our schools,” Scribner said, “In my mind, it should be coming from the district. I believe in the arts tremendously because it gives them (children) a chance to experience something I wouldn’t be able to give them otherwise.”

At Hancock Park Elementary, Principal Ashley Parker, said she anticipated that by next week the district would issue final instructions regarding the number of rescinded RIF notices and class sizes.

“I want to hold on to my quality staff,” Parker said, “I will see it through, I won’t be in any rush to replace anyone. I cannot do anything official in terms of assignments without getting notifications from the district. From an administrative perspective it is easier to take the news, whatever it is, and make the most of it once it’s finalized.”

Parker said regardless of the money raised by the “Save the Arts” event and what happens this year with agreements between unions and the district, she remains concerned.

“From the information that has been shared with me, I can anticipate another year of challenging budget cuts and layoffs. It’s not over,” Parker added.

Tickets to “Save the Arts”, which also features an auction, are $25. The event will take place at 6:00 p.m. at the Cocoanut Grove, 3400 Wilshire Blvd. at 6:00 p.m. For information call (323)935-9744.





One Response to “Coalition Hopes to Save the Arts at Schools”

  1. Students excell in all studies when the arts is a part of their regular program.
    I know this personally and professionally.

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