There appears to be a misconception in the com munity about the outcome of efforts to prevent cuts in the performing arts department at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for the next academic year. I am writing to offer some clarification and to ask for your help.
The current budget for the 2008-2009 year cuts part of a full-time music instructor position from the three we currently have. Two fifths of our one full-time drama instructor position were initially cut, then restored by giving this position responsibilities that used to be part of a full-time Performing Arts Center manager position.
The performing arts department curriculum has been significantly cut: seven out of 22 courses listed in the 2007-2008 course catalogue, including both music and theatre courses (some aimed at preparing students for college level education in the performing arts) are no longer listed. Faculty cuts will also inevitably result in some impact on the extensive after-school activities currently offered by the performing arts department faculty.
Education in the performing arts is not only important to those students who may choose to pursue them at the college and career level (and we have many who do). There is solid evidence that education in the performing arts encourages and teaches creativity and imagination, the art of interpretation, cross-cultural differences, the value of different perspectives, teamwork and team-building skills, self expression, and general public performance skills — all valuable skills regardless of one’s career choices. It enhances studies in language arts and world history, and is informed by these other disciplines. It fosters the integration of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. And it provides positive and affirming learning experiences for students whose learning style is more learning by doing than learning through books and lectures, contributing significantly to their motivation, self esteem and success in high school.
I recognize the difficult task before our administrations and school committees to plan and justify ever increasing budgets in the face of declining enrollments. The community is clearly asking for tax cuts, and the school budgets receive by far the lion’s share of our taxes. However, it seems that if a school budget must be trimmed, actual curriculum and instructors should be the last thing to go. The primary business of a school is not to maintain a facility, to provide supplies, to manage teachers, to provide busing or to provide many of the other line items in the budget. The primary business of a school is to educate. It is possible to provide education without providing pencils or buses. You cannot provide education without teachers and curriculum.
The cost of restoring the music instructor position for one more year would be $27,349.
As a stopgap measure only, a group of concerned community members is working to add articles to each of our six town warrants to raise the funds. Dividing up this modest one-time sum according to current high school enrollments in each town means for example that the town of Aquinnah, with the fewest students, would be asked to appropriate a one-time amount of just $714, and the town of Oak Bluffs, with the most students, would be asked for just $7,676.
Our thought is that if we can just keep our current bare bones faculty positions in the budget for one more year, this would buy us a year to work on obtaining alternative sources of funding. We have in mind developing and executing a business plan that would involve applying for grants, holding fundraisers and seeking donors. We already have two active, community-based nonprofit organizations in place that support our high school performing arts department.
We are also looking for other forms of support from the community. Our administrations and school committees need to know what value their constituents place on the arts curriculums in our schools. The cuts in next year’s budget are just the beginning. More and deeper cuts will follow. If there is no community response to this year’s budget cuts to the arts, your administrations will surely read that as a lack of value placed on the arts in our curriculums.
We are also working to add a second article to each town warrant, which would allow towns to vote to communicate their support for performing arts education in our schools without voting to actually appropriate funds. This expression of community support may be important in seeking grants and donors in the long term.
To add these articles to town warrants, we need a small number of petition signatures from each town. Please keep your eye out for opportunities to sign these petitions. Your signature is not a vote to appropriate money or express support; it would simply provide towns the opportunity to consider and vote on these articles at the next town meeting.
We have a lot of work ahead of us to insure that our current and upcoming high school students will enjoy the same performing arts opportunities as past students.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments.
Meanwhile, come and enjoy this week’s performance of the musical Chorus Line by the high school theatre department. Roughly 75 high school students (nearly a tenth of the entire student body) have been working hard on this program since last fall. It promises to be, as always, an outstanding show, and it will remind you of how much this department contributes not only to our kids’ education, but also to the cultural life of our community at large.
Deborah Mayhew lives in West Tisbury.