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High school arts feel budget squeeze

Donations down for many elective and enrichment programs, teachers say
By: Bridget Jones Journal Staff Writer
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Some Placer High School classes may see cuts in the future as donations continue to dwindle after an ACLU lawsuit decision reiterated that schools can’t charge for an education. Teachers working on new way to operate Toby Covich, department chairman of Placer’s Visual and Performing Arts, said the lawsuit decision and tough economy are impacting all classes in his department. “I think what has happened both with the pay-to-play and the fact that the economy is not doing well at all, we are actually taking in about one-third of what we usually would in terms of donations,” Covich said. “We are kind of in works now with the district, and we are all working trying to figure this out.” Covich said the department is working its way into a new business model as the state continues to make cuts to education. Covich said before the lawsuit decision he didn’t require students to pay fees for his ceramics classes and he always tried to work with students who couldn’t pay, but he definitely saw more in donations. He said normally he collects about $6,000 in donations and so far this year it’s only at $1,200. When he started teaching at the school in 1977, Covich said he received $3,500 a year from the school for materials and now receives about $700. “All of a sudden it’s like what are we going to not do,” he said. Covich said he believes in the future teachers and administrators will have to start making some hard choices about classes, and those choices are always difficult to make when they impact students. “Everybody here is doing their darndest and working their hardest to keep the quality of what we have and all the programs we have in tact for the students,” he said. ‘It makes art seem limited’ Elise Ryerson, who teaches photography at Placer, said students have donated about 10 to 20 percent of what they normally do to the class. The classes operating cost in the past has been $4,000 and Ryerson said she has received $700 from the school so far this year. Ryerson said she was always willing to work with students who couldn’t afford to pay for the class, but most students could. “If they came to me and said they couldn’t afford it, I was like, ‘No problem,’” she said. “They usually did (pay it). It was just kind of a part of the way it went.” The difference this year is causing Ryerson to make some changes in class. “I had to buy fewer materials, cut down on some more fun projects,” she said. “I have had to set a limit to the amount of materials because the law says I need to provide (students) with what it takes to pass the project in the class. So, I have had to kind of really figure that out, which limits them from free printing.” Students in advanced photography take digital photos and Ryerson said they don’t print them out anymore unless they are really exceptional, because not printing is a huge money saver. She said she thinks all this does have an impact on students. “It makes art seem limited, and then especially for the advanced digital kids it makes it seem less tangible,” she said. “I think it makes the art they create just like any digital art they can pull up off the Internet, and it doesn’t have as much of an importance to them because it isn’t being hung on the wall.” Matt Conley, who teaches woodshop at Placer, said his class is a little different, because it is an elective, not a required class like art. “Basically electives are on their own to support themselves as much as they possibly can,” Conley said. Conley said in the past students had to pay a $50 lab fee in order to take projects home. He now calls it a donation and students who can’t pay it can participate in a couple of community projects that earn donations to go toward the amount. These projects have been in place for several years. Conley said he does limit the projects in his class with the amount of materials needed for them, but it doesn’t affect the work students need to do to earn a grade. Conley said he can no long offer incentives for students to get their donations in by a certain time. However, he said the donations brought in through community projects such as students building high quality bird houses sold for donations at Flower Farm in Loomis, and donated wood from Auburn Hardwoods really helps the classes. Possible future cuts Dave Horsey, superintendent of the Placer Union High School District, said he thinks teachers’ concerns are very valid. Horsey said he feels there is a lot of disconnect with parents and what they see as a free education that should be offered under the constitution. Horsey said since the ACLU lawsuit, parents seem to feel the schools should have to handle classroom costs. “There are no additional monies, in fact there is less,” Horsey said. “Those enrichment activities are a huge amount of their budget, and they go above and beyond the core curriculum. We still need that parental support to pay for the enriched activities or that starts getting cut back and the kids start to lose.” Horsey said while art classes that are required to get into college would not go away, their offerings could be cut, meaning that fewer students would have a chance to take them past their graduation requirements. “In our district we have never turned students away who couldn’t afford to pay, and yet our donations for sports and (these classes) are down anywhere … from 60 to 80 percent,” he said. “This is the year we are trying to take the time to educate and inform the parents of the need and what we are doing with it.” Horsey said as far as a silver lining, he still has hope for the community, because they have always stepped up in the past, although he said he understands the difficult financial situation many families are in. Living with the decision David Lawrenson, who teaches band and choir at Placer, said students are still able to go on their Spring Music Tour this year because of fundraisers and donations, but he was going to cut the two competition parades before the music boosters decided to fund them. Lawrenson said he has received less than 50 percent of normal donations in choir and band and has had to cut back on some things. He said classes are making due with less funding from the district and as a result of the ACLU lawsuit decision. “It’s what the state is telling us to do, and regardless of whether or not we think it’s fair, we have to live with the decision,” he said. What do students think? The Journal spoke to several students in Covich’s third-period ceramics class about the issue. Placer High senior Janina Bruce, 17, said she thinks students shouldn’t have to pay for classes, but should at least partially pay for sports they participate in. Bruce said she doesn’t like to think about electives some day being cut at the high school level. “I would feel like if they still want to put it on as an elective, they should,” she said. “If there are no actual electives, that would encourage kids not to go to school. Electives are here to make school fun.” Bruce said she thinks families should donate as much as they can to classes. Senior Kassie Matthews, 16, said she thinks the lawsuit decision is a good one because some people can’t afford to pay fees for high school classes, but said she thinks those that can donate should, because “schools are really struggling right now.” Senior Davis O’Toole, 17, said he thinks the ACLU lawsuit decision is a bad one because schools don’t have enough money for classes like art. He said he thinks it’s good for classes when students choose to donate. O’Toole said he also disagrees with possibly cutting the number of offerings for enrichment classes and electives in the future. “I think it’s another bad decision because they are fun classes and they should be offered to everyone who wants to take them,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com