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Art, music teachers expected at meeting

By Staff | Apr 21, 2009

Nearly 50 fine arts and music teachers gathered last week in Fort Myers to mobilize a campaign to convince the Lee County School Board not to cut the arts.
But the question today is whether those teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs will attend tonight’s board meeting.
If the district budget shortfall is more than $50 million, the board has discussed a plan to cut art and music teachers from 43 elementary schools.
Last week the Florida House and Senate passed budgets leaving education funding relatively the same as last year — $6,860 per student — so it is unlikely the district will have to reduce as many positions as expected.
Superintendent James Browder said Friday that the district will most likely be dealing with a more manageable shortfall of $25 million.
Music and arts teachers recently hired music advocate John Benham to help deliver their message to the school board. He will attempt to point out the educational and financial implications of eliminating art teachers and programs.
Benham’s advice to Lee County teachers is to organize and become involved in the decision-making process at school board meetings.
Benham helped one of Atlanta’s largest school districts stop cuts to arts and music. He currently serves as president of the nonprofit organization Music and World Cultures.
Previous discussions at board meetings have centered around cutting district positions, yet participation by the teachers who are affected by these decisions has not been palpable.
A group of approximately 25 art teachers attended a board meeting last month, but none addressed the board during public comment.
Robert Chilmonik, one Lee County School Board member who attended last week’s gathering, said he believes many fine arts teachers will attend tonight’s meeting.
Board member Elinor Scricca also sat through Benham’s presentation.
Jussi Doherty, choral director at Diplomat Middle School, stated Monday that he will attend the meeting along with other staff members.
“We are hoping to get parents and other community members to attend and speak to the board,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. “We aren’t an organization, so we just put the word out and hope everyone comes.”
The Lee County Alliance for the Arts and Lee Art Educator’s Association also plan on sending officials to tonight’s meeting.
Jeff Hanjian, a Cape Coral resident who came up with the idea to hire Benham to help curtail any Lee County cuts, said Benham’s presence is purely collaborative.
“This is about finding solutions,” he said last week. “We aren’t in an adversarial position with the school board.”