LAUSD discusses the fate of elementary Arts Education

The LA Times announces the Board members of the L.A. Unified School District met Tuesday afternoon to discuss proposed budgetary cuts that call for, among other things, a dramatic reduction in arts education programs in elementary schools. While no decisions regarding the cuts were made, board members took the opportunity to speak with local arts educators about possible scenarios and ways to mitigate the impact of the proposed reductions.
Faced with a nearly $470-million shortfall in the 2010-11 school year, the LAUSD published in December a series of proposed budget cuts, which include eliminating half of the district’s arts specialists who teach a specific cultural subject, such as music or dance, in elementary schools.
The move would result in an estimated savings of $14.9 million for the 2010-11 year. The proposal recommends eliminating the remaining arts specialists in the following school year, resulting in savings of another $14.9 million.

During Tuesday’s meeting, board members voiced their general support for arts education but did not get into specifics about the cuts.

Marguerite LaMotte, an LAUSD board member, questioned Robin Lithgow, the district’s elementary arts coordinator, about what schools will do if the reductions go into effect.

“Our first priority with whatever resources we have is to keep structures in place,” said Lithgow. She said that if arts faculty is cut by half, then she will have to double the number of students in each of the instructional clusters.

“Students will be getting that much less individual attention from an arts instructor,” she said.

Steven Zimmer, another LAUSD board member, suggested that corporations in the arts and entertainment fields should take a more active role to support arts education. “There needs to be a partnership here. I think we need to ask for responsibility from both ends — from the individual artists and the corporations,” he said.

To help raise awareness of the impending budget cuts, the district is launching a series of TV public service announcements featuring prominent actors, including John Lithgow, who is the brother of Robin Lithgow. The PSAs will also feature actors George Lopez and Edward James Olmos and mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán, who gave testimony during the meeting.

Board members also discussed the possibility of making arts education one of the school district’s core teaching areas.

Eleven years ago, LAUSD launched a multi-year plan to restore arts education throughout its schools following drastic cuts. The program came to be regarded as one of the most successful in the nation. But the plan has since fallen victim to statewide budgetary reductions.

Danielle Brazell, who heads Arts for L.A., a local advocacy group, said the board is likely to hold more meetings on the subject in the next few months. A decision on the proposed cuts is likely to come in the late spring, before the start of the 2010-11 school year.

“We know that arts education is going to have to take a hit. We just don’t want it to be disproportionate,” said Brazell.

Eli Consilvio