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May 22nd, 2013 SARA SNEATH | News Stories
 

The Arts Ax

As You Pay your $35, some Portland schools will see fewer arts teachers than last year.

news2_3929OUT OF TUNE: Portland Public Schools music teacher Eric Schopmeyer says he’s concerned some schools are seeing cuts in arts education. “Arts positions that were already there before the arts tax are being cut,” he says. - IMAGE: Anna Jaye Goellner
Portland voters gave their blessing to a $35-a-person tax last fall on the promise the money would be used to restore arts and music to the city’s public schools.

So imagine the surprise of Eric Schopmeyer, a full-time music teacher at Kelly Elementary School in Southeast Portland. On May 16, Schopmeyer says, he got a letter from Portland Public Schools informing him he would be cut to half-time next year. 

He had believed his school would be receiving an additional half-time art teacher, in addition to his full-time position.

“I certainly don’t think anyone who wrote their $35 check is going to be pleased when they hear their neighborhood school is going to have less arts than before,” Schopmeyer tells WW.

School officials tell WW as many as 15 elementary schools will see a reduction in arts teaching staff next year in the budget the School Board approved May 20. 

That’s because PPS officials had already shifted money away from arts teaching positions, assuming they would see the entire $4.5 million expected from the arts tax this year.

Under an agreement with the city, PPS will get only $3 million as a stopgap in case the arts tax doesn’t survive a court challenge. (The city will guarantee $1.5 million if the arts tax is struck down.)

The money covers the 30 arts teaching positions in elementary schools now, but some of those positions are being spread around, thinning arts instructions in the 15 schools.

“We’re quite disappointed,” says Jen Soares, co-treasurer of Llewellyn Elementary PTA. “We already have a half-time music teacher, and we had hoped he would go to full-time. Now, he’ll be reduced further.”

PPS spokeswoman Erin Barnett says some elementary schools that had no arts instructions will see at least a half-time teacher next year.

“We hope that the arts tax is going to be fully corrected,” Barnett says. “We would like to see the intention of the voters realized. That was our hope and plan when we did our budget.” Barnett says full arts-tax funding could mean restoring positions lost at some schools this year.

But the fine print of the arts tax never promised full-time arts teachers to all elementary schools. It instead proposed funding one full-time arts teacher for every 500 students. Smaller schools that have seen cuts may never get their arts funding back.

That’s what worries Schopmeyer: that the district’s budget takes money it once spent on arts teachers and commits it elsewhere, money that may not be there in the future.

His school, Kelly, has a high rate of students eligible for free and reduced meals. Schopmeyer says parents there are less likely to be able to raise private funds for arts teachers than schools in more affluent areas.

“It ends up being an equity issue,” he says. “It ends up hurting the poorer schools.” 

 
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