Art is history: TPS cuts could eliminate art teacher jobsWritten by Tom Fitt | | email@example.com
It isn’t a fair fight.
Dawn Murphy and her fellow elementary teacher specialists are armed only with training and experience, paint brushes, oils, pastels, a few sticks of charcoal, assorted lumps of clay, perhaps a baton and maybe a basketball.
The Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education holds the most dominant weapons: a checkbook, pink slips and a mailing list of the elementary specialists who will likely receive layoff notices. TPS is proposing it could save $7 million by laying off 132 elementary school art, music, and physical education specialists. The Board of Education claims that teachers in other concentrations will sufficiently cover the arts, all while it works to install a performing arts academy at Bowsher High School.
Murphy, who teaches at Elmhurst Elementary School, and her 131 colleagues do not believe the premise that the educational results will be equal.
On March 22 — prior to the board’s regularly scheduled meeting — teachers, students and parents staged an afternoon rally outside the board of education offices on East Manhattan Boulevard. The protesters were well-behaved, carrying placards protesting the cuts.
“I thought that it went very well,” Murphy said. “We had a pretty good turnout. We had parents, art teachers, music and phys. ed. (P.E.) teachers, and regular teachers as well.”
Murphy and the other 12 elementary school art teachers first became aware of the bleakness of their situation when they hosted the 7th Annual TPS Elementary Art Show the first two weeks of March. Board of Education members and Superintendent Jerome Pecko were noticeably absent.
“I hand-delivered invitations to everyone,” Murphy said. “I organize the whole thing; I get the students to bring their artwork (to Space 237 Gallery on North Michigan Avenue). Usually, the superintendent will show, the board members will show, but this year, nothing. It made me feel that we’re not — oh, I can’t find the word. This whole thing leaves me with a loss for words. They’re taking the creative energy away from the students, telling them that we’re just going to do academics. As for me, they’re just taking my 15 years of service and saying, ‘We’ll see you later.’ Not even a thank you; just ‘goodbye.’ The program is done and they want nothing to do with it.”
When Patty Mazur, TPS communications director, was asked if there was a reason for the absences at the show’s opening, she said, “I know only that Dr. Pecko was out of town. As for the board members, as far as I understand, the decisions must have been individual. Nothing of it was mentioned in the office.”
TPS Board of Education Vice President Lisa Sobecki said there was not a “boycott” of the annual elementary art show opening by TPS board members. She said that members are invited to events as many as four evenings per week. On the date of the March art opening, she had the opportunity to share a rare evening with her family.
“I love the arts,” Sobecki said. “Both of my kids have taken instrumental lessons and played in the school band. There are student art projects hanging on my walls.”
Murphy said Pecko had visited her classroom in February and told her that a lot of the proposed layoffs were coming due to state funding.
“It’s all about balancing the budget,” Murphy said. “In a nutshell, he said it was a numbers thing. I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.”
A Facebook group, “KEEP Music, Art & Physical Education Teachers In Toledo Public Schools!” had more than 2,200 members as of March 31.
At present, TPS estimates state funding to be reduced by $28 million for the next school year.
TPS sports have already suffered. All junior high and freshman sports were cut from district schools. The school board also eliminated certain sports altogether. Wrestling, golf and cross-country were all cut.
Seven non-TPS schools left the City League to form a new league, the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
James S. Catterall, author and professor of education at UCLA, wrote in his best-selling book “Doing Well by Doing Good by Doing Art,” that, “Students who proceed through arts-rich schools have better outcomes in both academic and social arenas than students who attend arts-poor, or arts-barren schools. The database shows that arts-rich schools are in fact different when it comes to key features of school climate, reported instructional practices, student attendance and social relations, and key assumptions that teachers make about how students learn.”
Murphy wants the public to know that, if regular classroom teachers —who she says are “already overloaded as it is” in preparing students for state testing and other curriculum goals — are required to take over the additional assignments of art, music and physical education, student growth cannot possibly be the same.
“In earning their degrees, many teachers took only one or two courses in art or music,” Murphy said. “Things will become a coloring page for art and recess will be P.E.”
The teachers’ next plan of attack — or “strategy,” as Murphy prefers to call it — is to await final figures to the state’s budget for the schools. She said the stress of not knowing “is hurting us all around. The regular teachers are feeling it, too. What are our wages going to come to? We don’t get into education to become millionaires; we just want to make ends meet.”
Toledo teachers are battling TPS and its proposed budget. But how much blame for cutbacks and layoffs goes to Gov. John Kasich and the dollar-crunching budget upon which he was elected last year? How about the loss of $981 million in federal stimulus Recovery Act funds that will dry up July 1? Factoring in the loss of federal money, overall funding for Ohio education will drop 11.5 percent this coming year, according to a report posted recently on CNNMoney.com.
Jim Gault, TPS chief academic officer, said the potential layoff of elementary teacher specialists is an “item which we will start negotiating shortly (with the Toledo Federation of Teachers). There are 132 positions involved.
“We obviously need to have a balanced budget by July 1, per state law. So, our goal as we go through this is to have closure as quickly as possible.”
He said the cuts may not affect the total number of specialist positions.
“There are a lot of options out there,” he said.
At present, the state has not made TPS aware of the total decrease of funds for the next school year. In Kasich’s budget, it is stated that school districts statewide will be reviewed individually. Therein lies a hang-up with negotiations between TPS and the union: No one really knows how much money is on the table.
“The governor has brought forward his budget — we’re looking at the 600-page document, though it’s not yet official — and we are projecting a 14 percent cut to our budget. As we follow what’s going on in Columbus and look through that document, we are adjusting our numbers as well,” Gault said. “In anticipation of what the governor would do, we factored into our reductions a 14 percent cut from state funding.”
He said TPS cut $10 million two years ago, $39 million last year.
“We’re looking at a budget deficit of about $37 million. Last year there were significant cuts in this district that led to a decrease in transportation and athletics, and we’re trying to restore some of those things.”