School leaders found a workaround for funding that was requested to bolster art and music programs at some of the district’s non-magnet middle schools, but didn’t make the final budget approved in August.
Of all of Wake’s 24 non-magnet middle schools, however, it appears Wendell Middle is the only site without three arts teachers this year, after it missed out on second-chance funding pulled from a pot used to address special needs at individual schools.
The budget request was intended as a step toward having three visual and performing arts teachers in each of the district’s middle schools – attempting to increase arts programming at the non-magnets to match what is offered at the magnet schools.
Heather Lawing, a spokeswoman for the school system, said middle schools were targeted because there tends to be less focus on arts there compared to elementary and high schools.
“A non-magnet school is never going to have all the offerings a magnet school does, because that’s part of what makes magnet schools magnet schools,” Lawing said, referring to the magnets’ unique courses and programs. “(Arts programming) is a focus in elementary school and a focus in high school. But there just is less focus on that and less funding for that at the middle school level.”
Superintendent Jim Merrill’s proposed budget included $421,692 for 75 months of employment, the equivalent of 7.5 teaching positions, aimed at bringing equity among middle school arts programs.
That funding, Lawing said, would have actually been repurposed money from another school program that was phasing out.
“Since they knew there had previously been money for that other program, at 75 months of employment, it was easy to just say, ‘let’s move these 75 months of employment over to visual and performing arts,’ and give them to schools where they need those positions,” Lawing said.
But while school board members – particularly Bill Fletcher – supported the request, it became one of several cuts the school board made facing a $17.5 million budget shortfall.
Three new positions
High school band uniform and instrument replacement ($30,000) and strings repair ($20,250) at the 27 Wake middle and high schools that have strings programs were among the new or expanding programs that were funded in the budget.
Though the budget case for new arts teachers fell through, Lawing said additional arts teachers were still financed at Reedy Creek, West Cary and Pine Hollow middle schools using what is called targeted enrollment allocation funding.
The funding for the three non-magnet middle schools could be spent only on an arts position, Lawing said.
“If the business case had been approved in the final budget, the funding would have come out of that allotment instead of the targeted enrollment allocation,” Lawing said.
For all regularly funded positions, principals have the flexibility of choosing how to use the total months of employment they are allotted for staff, based on the interests and needs at their individual schools.
“Wendell (Middle) may have been one of the schools that had another need – they may not have even considered the idea of using that funding for visual and performing arts teachers,” Lawing said. “Administrators here, at central office, will work with the area superintendent and the (Wendell Middle) principal to identify the situation, the needs, and evaluate the needs and their resources to figure out how to get to that standard of three (arts teachers).”
Wendell Middle School currently has two arts teachers – a band teacher and a visual arts teacher.
The school does not offer chorus or drama, but students would like to see those programs offered.
“Our band teacher (Cat Slade) currently only teaches band, and she says she has kids ask her about chorus,” said Principal Robert Morrison. “I’ve had kids approach me about drama as well, so I think if we were fortunate enough to add that third position, we would look for someone who could teach drama and chorus, because our student body has expressed interest in both.”
Morrison said 10-15 students asked him in the spring, around registration time, about the possibility of offering drama at the school.
“I said if that many actually approach me about it and ask the question, I’m sure there’s a lot more that’s going to come to me,” Morrison said.
As Morrison sees it, having chorus and drama would provide new ways for the school’s students to learn, express themselves and showcase their talents. Members of the school’s band are regular recipients of all-county and all-district recognition.
“How great would it be for us to have a student-led play for our students to participate in,” Morrison said. “We’re very fortunate to have what we have, but a third (arts) teacher would be great.
“I know the people who make those decisions have to make some very difficult ones. I knew the possibility was there, but that they were also crunching numbers.”