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Fate of school art, music programs may be decided

By Staff | Jul 29, 2009

By MCKENZIE CASSIDY, mcassidy@breezenewspapers.com

The fate of arts and music in local schools took center stage during the Lee County School District’s budgeting process this spring.

One plan sought to reduce “above-the-formula” teachers – many of whom taught art and music – to deal with shortfalls in the budget. Later, the school board announced that it would reinstate half of the cuts projected for fine arts.

Tuesday, school district spokesman Joe Donzelli reiterated that art and music would be staffed at 50 percent of 2008-2009 staffing levels. As a result, some art and music teachers will lose their job, but programs should remain intact.

“The plan was to reinstate the above formula arts and music teachers at 50 percent of last year’s levels,” said Donzelli, “so there will be some reductions there.”

Tonight the school board will decide whether to adopt Superintendent James Browder’s 2010 tentative budget worth $1.42 billion, a decrease from $1.55 billion in 2008-2009. If the tentative budget is adopted, the district will cut 95 teacher positions for the upcoming school year, as well as 17 school counselors and 23 media specialists.

Although 95 teaching positions would be cut in the proposed budget, officials were unable to say how many of those were art or music teachers.

The cuts also don’t mean that 95 people will lose their jobs. Donzelli said many teachers become certified in other areas and are placed in other vacant positions in the district.

“I believe many of those individuals found other positions with the district as they were certified in other areas aside from art and music,” said Donzelli.

While the district won’t be reducing an inordinate amount of teachers, local art advocates have expressed concern about the affect cutting half of the positions will have on art education in Lee County.

At several school board meeting, dozens of fine arts teachers, parents and members of the community addressed the board on cutting the arts, saying they wanted to make sure these opportunities were preserved.

They even considered hiring national art advocate John Benham to work with the school district to find a way to save the local art programs and formed the Lee Art Educator’s Association.

Over the past two years, the school district has lost $60 million in funding and officials contended it was only a matter of time before cuts reached into the classroom. The school district receives funding per student through the Florida Education Finance Program. Per student funding is expected to drop from $7,206 last year to $7,168 in 2010. Funding for students had increased historically from the late 1990s until the 2008-2009 when it decreased for the first time by an estimated $200.

The tentative budget will be presented to the community tonight at the Lee Education Center at 5:05 p.m.