'Impossible trade-offs': Scarborough voters to decide fate of school arts programs
SCARBOROUGH — As the music teachers gear up for their annual spring concerts and the art teachers work into the night to set up the annual art show, they work with the knowledge that this will likely be the last year for some of these programs.
The $34.9 million school budget, approved by the School Board and the Town Council, calls for nearly four full-time positions to be cut from the School Department's music and arts programs. The job losses in the music and arts programs represent 12.5 percent of the more than 31 positions targeted throughout the department.
The public will vote on the school budget on Tuesday, May 11.
"This isn't summer camp arts and crafts," Scarborough Middle School art teacher Rosemary Grabarz said. "This is a structured part of the school day."
Grabarz, who has taught at the middle school for 26 years, said she is deeply concerned that students will suffer if the other middle school art teacher, Lee Carol, who is retiring this year, is not replaced.
"I have 400 kids now. Lee teaches the other 400. I can't teach 800 kids. Some students won't have art next year," she said.
Sandra Sharood, who teaches general music and conducts the sixth-grade band, said the cuts will make the state's requirements for learning results nearly impossible to meet.
The Learning Results require that students at a variety of grade levels be able to achieve certain benchmarks, such as identifying musical symbols by second grade, developing personal expression through the arts by fourth grade, and demonstrating an understanding of how achievement in the arts can support achievement in other disciplines by eighth grade.
"The cuts are not going to just show on the wall and on the stage," Sharood said. "It's going to show in the test scores."
Sharood cited studies that show arts involvement leads to higher overall test scores.
"We're cutting the programs that increase scores just as we're trying to get those up," Sharood said.
The budget cuts do not come out of nowhere. The district received $1.32 million less in state general purpose aid this year, a more than 19 percent reduction from already reduced aid last year.
During the budget process, many parents have spoken out in support of the schools – even at the cost of raising taxes. At a council meeting in March, more than 60 members of the public attended to hear the town manager's first presentation of the budget; nearly all of the speakers that night asked the town to allocate more funds to the schools.
"We just wouldn't have support from the community for a double-digit tax increase," School Board Finance Committee member Christopher Brownsey said.
He explained that one of the variables of the May referendum vote is the turnout. Voters will have the opportunity to vote for or against the budget, and if they vote against the budget, they can check off another box explaining that the budget was too high or too low.
"If more people vote, it makes it easier to act," Brownsey said.
The proposed school budget is more than $214,000 smaller than this year's budget, but still requires a tax increase. Brownsey said the Finance Committee tried to use the administration's recommendations when making cuts, but in the end it came down to making very difficult decisions.
"It's an impossible trade-off," he said.
In the meantime, music teachers are leading dress rehearsals of pieces the students have worked on for months, and the art teachers display hundreds of student works on walls at the high school.
"It takes years to grow these programs, and then they're cut in one year," Grabarz said. "You can't just pick up where you left off when the money comes back."
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org