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‘Backseat’ music & art

Arts education in public school is “hanging on by a string,” according to the head of a local parents’ group.

Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC), believes that art and music education have taken a back seat to test preparation and it’s the students who are suffering.

“It is hanging on by a string,” he said. “The sad reality is that many of our schools are struggling to keep one art teacher on staff or a music teacher and they are not able to teach the entire school so there are a lot of children who are left out of the process. With this constant emphasis on testing and test prep and accountability, that’s one of the things that we want to make sure doesn’t get pushed off the table.”

The latest round of funding cuts to the city Department of Education (DOE) has heightened fears that art and music will suffer. If the City Council approves Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed $185 million cut, principals could lose thousands of dollars. If that’s the case, the expectation is that after-school programs and creative subjects like art and music will be the first to be cut.

“My fear is that principals are going to have to make choices and my fear is that they are going to err on the side of ELA [English Language Arts] and math and whatever the standardized test is for that year because that is what they are being graded on,” Spinelli said. “They’re not being graded on arts education and music and dance. That’s not on their report card score.”

Spinelli said the cuts will be hardest for the most cash-strapped schools in District 22, which spans Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay. Those are the schools that do not receive Title One funding, which is allocated to under-performing schools for special programs.

Many of those schools were forced to eliminate after-school programs earlier this year when Bloomberg implemented a $180 million budget cut in the middle of the last school year. If the latest funding cut is approved, non-Title One schools could be hit even harder, Spinelli said.

“For non-Title One schools, they’re run on such a shoestring budget that they don’t have discretionary funds at their disposal,” he explained. “So what happens is they have to say do we have to collapse a classroom? Do we have to increase class size? Do we have to get rid of a teacher? Do we have to get rid of an after-school program? That’s if they’re lucky enough to have an after-school program.”

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