June 01, 2004

Cutting Fine Arts Coordinator Will Cost Money

With the recent elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator in the Madison public schools, music and art (arts) education in Madisonís public schools will continue to crumble and to fall apart but at a faster pace. Thatís bad for our childrenís education, but itís also bad for the Cityís economy.

This letter to the editor of local Madison papers expresses concerns over the educational and financial costs of cutting 1/2 the position of the MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator that works with the District's 130+ music and art FTEs in 47 schools to help these teachers deliver a quality curriculum.

Dear Editor:

With the recent elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator in the Madison public schools, music and art (arts) education in Madisonís public schools will continue to crumble and to fall apart but at a faster pace. Thatís bad for our childrenís education, but itís also bad for the Cityís economy.

Madisonís School Board did not have to eliminate the portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator that supports the entire Districtís arts education. Rather than save money, this decision will likely cost the District money. More expensive personnel will be scheduling 130+ FTEs in 47 schools in increments of 0.1 positions. Those same expensive personnel will now assemble a team of teachers to oversee the arts curriculums which will be an added expense. This additional personnel time will be needed to develop and monitor the music and arts curriculums, to ensure that MMSD continues to meet DPI requirements and to ensure that the arts staff has the needed resources and support to do their jobs.

Why didnít the Boardís decision include an estimate of these costs before the Board voted May 17 on Winstonís proposal (seconded by Bill Clingan)? Why did Board discussion last only a few minutes before deciding to eliminate this position? Budgets are tight and the community has been calling for a reduction in administrative staff, but there still ought to be some basic review and analysis of the net educational and dollar impacts before positions are eliminated. If this work was done on this position, I donít remember seeing this information presented and discussed publicly. I donít think members of the arts community were asked for their opinions prior to the Boardís decision.

Arts education in the public schools ought to be a foundation piece in a City that is as invested in its arts community as Madison is. Just as people want to live in Madison because of what Forbes magazine calls Madisonís hyper-active arts schedule, they also want to live in Madison because their children can get a good arts education as part of an excellent public school education system.

The children in our schools represent the Cityís present performers and will be Madisonís future audience and its future performers. The MMSD music and art teachers are experts in their field, and they also perform professionally. Madison teachers perform in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, theater productions, Madison Opera, choral works, gallery exhibits, to name a few art venues. Their efforts contribute to the cultural and economic well-being of the City.

In Madison arts education is already efficient and cost-effective. Less than 5% (less than $10 million) of the Districtís $308 million annual budget supports the entire DPI mandated music and art curriculums. The entire budget costs less than $400/student (MMSD spend about $2,000/elementary student on language arts education). Elementary music and art teachers instruct more than 200 students per teacher (classroom teachers average about 125 students each). Music and art teachers are itinerant teachers. In the elementary school these teachers can travel to as many as five schools to instruct children. The Districtís Fine Arts Coordinator adds to the cost-effectiveness of the arts education curriculum by efficiently scheduling personnel and serving as an important liaison between itinerant arts teachers and school principals.

Only the Ĺ time outreach portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator position will remain, which is responsible for relationships between the District and the communityís arts organizations. While this is a necessary component of a Fine Arts Coordinatorís role, it is neither sufficient nor adequate. An outreach-only Fine Arts Coordinator for the District cannot do his/her job without both the connection to the schools and a relationship with the Districtís arts teachers. Otherwise, the relationship with the community will be greatly diminished.

Studies done on arts education have reported that those school districts with successful arts education have the following elements: strong community support and involvement in the politics and instruction of arts education in the schools, a vision for arts education from the Superintendent, a supportive School Board, a districtwide fine arts coordinator, arts curriculums and staff specialized in their field. Madison is quickly losing these key elements.

Perhaps MMSD needs a Fine Arts Council composed of arts educators and community representatives who actively oversee and make recommendations to the Districtís arts curriculums, serving to build consensus among the Superintendent, School Board, teachers and the community. Perhaps the community ought to push for arts education in the public schools to be a more integral part of the Cityís cultural planning. Afterall, arts education is a core component of No Child Left Behind.

For the past five years, music and art curriculums in Madisonís schools have been on the decline, squeezing personnel allocations and eliminating important elements of the curriculum. With the elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator position in the schools, Madisonís School Board and its Superintendent are continuing to abandon the strong arts support we have had in our schools for decades. Rather than reaching out to and working with the community to build a strong vision for arts education in the public schools that would continue to be a foundation piece of the larger community of arts Madison so dearly values and invests in, MMSDís leaders are choosing to turn their backs on what Madison values.
Barbara M. Schrank

Posted by Barb Schrank at June 1, 2004 01:51 PM | TrackBack