Lakota saves $1.5M after cuts to art, music

Elementary students now have more tutoring and enrichment.

Elementary students within Lakota are getting less exposure this school year to subjects, including art and music.

In a cost-reduction effort, the district reduced personnel in the areas of music, art and physical education, and the amount of weekly instruction students receive in grades K-6, according to Patricia Fong, chief academic administrator of data, assessment and core instruction.

The district is poised to save $1.5 million to its general fund this year after cutting 30 positions, Fong said.

Amy Murray of Liberty Twp. — who has three daughters enrolled at VanGorden Elementary — said her oldest daughter, a fifth grader, has expressed missing the chance to attend art class once every week. But Murray said the district has reached a “suitable balance” given that there is no state minimum for instruction in art, music and physical education.

“Children are still being exposed to art and music, and the libraries are still open, but we’re moving toward if your child is motivated by art and music, you as a parent have to look at other avenues such as private music lessons,” Murray said.

In previous years, Fong said Lakota offered elementary students a comprehensive program taught by specialists in each of the areas of art, music and physical education. Students received 40-45 minutes each week in all three areas.

Under the new standards, students receive instruction on rotating six-week cycles. This mean one hour of music per week for six weeks, before switching to one hour of art per week for six weeks, etc.

“Some parents have taken students out of Lakota … a lot are from the cutting of these programs,” Fong said. “A student might not find success in math or social studies but finds a passion in the arts.”

The Lakota district has an enrollment of 17,339 students. The district recorded a drop in enrollment of 1,093 students between October 2010 and October 2012, according to officials.

Sharon Mays, president of the Lakota Education Association, said the teachers’ union believes it’s essential to provide students with a well-rounded public education that includes core curricula and specialty areas.

“These specialty areas offer an extension of students’ math, science/health, social studies and English classes by giving purpose and meaning to what they are learning,” Mays said. “Additionally, these specialty classes provide a base for many extracurricular activities … band, sports, clubs … which assist in the development of our students’ fullest potential.”

A major piece of the restructuring was the reduction in personnel, Fong said.

During the 2011-12 school year, Lakota spent $3.6 million on the salary and benefits of 42.8 teachers in art, music, P.E., and unified arts — defined as licensed, elementary staff covering other instructional areas in addition to art, music and physical education.

For the 2012-13 school year, the district retained 12 teachers who rotate among the 14 elementary school buildings to teach these subjects, Fong said. Personnel costs have decreased to about $768,000.

The Hamilton City School District — which has eight elementary buildings — maintains an hour each week of music and physical education, and 40 minutes per week of art instruction for students, according to officials.

The Hamilton district spends $1.8 million each year on the salaries and benefits of 28 elementary teachers in music, art and physical education. There’s a P.E. teacher in each of the eight schools — a reduction from 12 teachers in 2010.

On the fine arts and music side, Laurin Sprague, director of fine arts, said there are six art teachers — each assigned two buildings — and a total of 14 music teachers working at the elementary level.

“The band and orchestra teachers work in multiple buildings each day, including secondary schools,” Sprague said.

Sprague said students in grades 5-6 have the option of either general music or joining band or orchestra. He said students rent or purchase their instruments, but the district will allow students without the financial means to borrow a school instrument for a small fee.

“Students in fifth and sixth grades also have the unique opportunity to participate in the elementary honor orchestra, band or chorus,” Sprague said, through teacher recommendations. “Students in these groups rehearse once a week and perform at least twice during the school year.”

At Lakota schools, Fong said after the sixth grade it’s optional for students to participate in music and band.

A band program for the sixth grade had been eliminated during the 2011-12 school year; but was reinstated this year through a partnership with Buddy Roger’s Music. Fong said parents pay a fee for instructors from Buddy Rogers to come to the buildings to teach students.

Since art and music classes have been reduced, Fong said students receive increased time in the core subjects. She said a tutoring and enrichment block has proved helpful for students who may be behind in a certain subject area, or that need acceleration in a subject.

Fong said this will only prove to be more useful once Ohio’s new Common Core Standards are fully implemented during the 2014-15 school year.

Murray — co-president of the VanGorden Parent-Teacher Association — said the changes in curriculum have forced the parent organizations to “think outside the box” when planning after-school programs.

“Our staff is doing what we can to add enrichment,” Murray said. “We’re adding after-school programs children can register for by bringing in art or music instructors.”

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