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Local private and charter schools to keep arts programs

By Staff | Apr 1, 2009

It is a dark time for fine arts in public schools, and while the Lee County School District is thinking of slashing programs because of the impending budget, private schools say they are keeping the arts regardless of economic circumstances.
The Lee School District may eliminate arts and music programs in 43 elementary schools by cutting 80 teachers by next year. The positions are not paid for by the state and are considered “above-the-formula,” meaning that art teachers and 500 other positions will vanish if the district loses $51 million or more.
Teachers at St. Andrew Catholic School, a private K-8 with approximately 300 students, contend that arts will not be the first area cut.
“Although times are difficult throughout our area and the country, arts in education shouldn’t be the first or total line of cuts,” said Diana Villadolid, an art teacher at St. Andrew.
Arts education often reaches many students who are visual or kinesthetic learners by reinforcing core curriculum but with artistic methods, she said.
The school will not cut co-curricular classes, said Villadolid, which include guidance, Spanish, art, music, physical education, computer, media center, television production and the STARS student support program.
On Tuesday the school even celebrated Youth Arts Month with a visit from the Florida Repertory Theatre.
Private schools like St. Andrew do not receive funding from the state government under the Florida Education Finance Program and rely entirely on student tuition.
Like other private schools, St. Andrew has felt the sting of a lagging economy that has resulted in lower enrollment. As for potential personnel reductions, St. Andrew will learn its expected enrollment after Easter break.
“St. Andrew’s is also feeling the affects of this poor economy and is likewise forced to make cuts, but we are dedicated to forming the ‘whole child’ and will not be cutting our co-curricular classes,” said Villadolid.
The city of Cape Coral Charter School System is a public system serving local residents. While other public schools are downsizing and preparing for cuts, the charter system — with two elementary schools and one middle — is expanding with a new high school.
Dr. Lee Bush, charter schools administrator, said the system is one of the few with increasing enrollment. It is expecting 275 new students next year, topping enrollment at 2,100.
The system receives funding from the state’s FEFP calculations, but it does not receive revenue from impact fees or taxes like the Lee County School District.
“Because of reduction in those two areas (impact fees and taxes), they are hurt more than we are,” said Bush.
He said the charter system has no plans to cut art or music teachers. It is also one of the only public schools in Lee County that offers recess every day.
“We aren’t planning on eliminating any positions, in fact, we are hiring positions,” said Bush.
He is hoping that the Legislature is fair with per pupil spending through the FEFP. If there is a reduction in per pupil spending between 8 percent and 10 percent, the charter system may have to consider other options.
Currently, there are no indicators pointing to reductions that large.
Various studies have linked access to music and arts as prime indicators for student performance.
A recent study by the National Association of Music Merchants reported that students in music programs performed better on standardized tests. On the elementary level, they earned 22 percent better marks in English and 20 percent better grades in mathematics than other students.
Cape Coral elementary students interested in art will need to attend the North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts for fine arts instruction, but space is limited under school choice.
The fact that private schools are not cutting the arts may be a motivator for some parents to transfer their children out of the public school system, but the current economic climate may be too much for families to afford tuition.