Local: Education

D.C. parents fight arts budget cuts

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

Parents are fighting back after DC Public Schools announced plans to cut more than $300,000 from an arts program -- cuts some parents worry the program won't survive.

The Fillmore Arts Center offers classes on two campuses in dance, digital arts, theater, music, visual arts, creative writing and physical education to students in 11 DCPS elementary schools this year. To fund the program, each participating school pays what it otherwise would have toward in-school art and music teachers.

But a reduction in the amount schools have to pay and four schools' decisions to teach art and music themselves will slash the program's budget by more than $300,000 and force the principal to cut four of the program's five full-time teachers to part-time hourly instructors, according to the Friends of Fillmore, the program's version of a parent-teacher association.

Schools participating in the Fillmore Arts Center in 2013-2014
Hyde-Addison Elementary School
Key Elementary School
Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School
Marie Reed Elementary School
Nalle Elementary School
Raymond Education Campus
Ross Elementary School
Stoddert Elementary School
Source: DC Public Schools

The pay cut will likely mean the better teachers will leave, said Friends of Fillmore Secretary Tilman Wuerschmidt, like the music teacher who inspired his children. "It will not be a standout program anymore," he said.

Program advocates have begun a campaign to restore the $300,000, blasting community email lists and collecting more than 700 signatures on an online petition.

DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz attributed this year's budget cuts largely to four schools' decisions not to continue using the program. Though one new school joined, that doesn't make up for the loss.

Parents also point to DCPS's decision last year to stop paying for transportation between the elementary schools and Fillmore's campuses, though Salmanowitz said DCPS is paying the $150,000 transportation costs next school year.

This year's cut is the latest in four years' worth of budget cuts that program advocates say have left the program a shell of what the nearly 40-year-old program once was.

Even before the budget cuts, the program operated largely through grants and private donations raised through parents' and other advocates' fundraising efforts. These efforts paid for everything from arts supplies to toilet paper, Wuerschmidt said.

"The bottom line is, over the last couple of years, the budget has been sort of cut and cut and cut, leaving us scrambling," said Laura Stack, whose two daughters attend Ross Elementary, one of the participating schools. "It might not be viable to continue having the program. DCPS doesn't seem to appreciate the investment that's required to make it work."

Returning arts instruction to students' home schools would mean losing access to facilities and tools, like the kiln that students use when they take ceramics, Wuerschmidt said. Some schools -- like Key Elementary, where his children go -- lack any space for music or art.

"You do all this hassle because the instruction is good, because it's very different from, 'OK, little one, sit down and paint your watercolor.' "

Fillmore Arts Center Principal Katherine Latterner directed questions to DCPS.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner