Reader view: With school budget cuts proposed, a reminder that performing arts are essential

Editor’s note: The following was sent to the Edmonds School Board and Superintendent, and has been published here with permission.

I am writing to express how deeply concerned I am about the Edmonds School District budget cuts proposal for next year and the deep impacts they would have on the performing arts across our school district. As a parent, an Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate and Edmonds Arts Commission Scholarship recipient, a former K-12 music educator for the Edmonds School District, and the owner of Alley Bell Music in downtown Edmonds with many music students attending schools in our district, I believe that these cuts will have a devastating impact on the students who participate in our performing arts programs across the district.

The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating to the performing arts, with our subjects being some of the last to be allowed to return to an in-person model of learning. Middle school and high school band, choir and orchestra programs have been struggling to rebuild their numbers after many students during the pandemic understandably bailed on their beginning music ensemble experiences. Those semblances of ensemble learning over Zoom were excruciating.

As we return to normalcy, the performing arts have become a safe haven for so many students. For some, their time in performing arts classes is what keeps them from leaving school entirely, because it is a place where they feel they can be known and accepted. For others, their participation in these programs brings the hope of collegiate-level scholarships that would open doors otherwise closed to them, and even dreams of a future career in the arts. And for all participants, these classes foster a lifelong appreciation for the arts, which leads to encouraging future generations to participate in the arts, and financial and physical support of the arts in our community as a whole.

I could cite all sorts of research studies advocating why the arts are important and of benefit to all, and why studying the arts encourages broad academic success. But my big question to you is this. Why are they apparently not important enough to keep? The performing arts are not something “extra.” They are part of the essential academic learning requirements for our students, mandated by the state of Washington. Just like math, just like science, just like history and social studies. The performing arts are essential, and we deserve to have our school board, our superintendent and our community fighting for their continued place in our schools.

I implore you to prioritize the arts and to ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential as human beings, so that they can in turn contribute to the cultural vitality of our communities as a whole. Please consider the emotional and academic health of our students, and the long term effects that these proposed cuts to the performing arts could have on our community as a whole. I urge you to look for other alternatives to this current budget cut proposal.

— By Sarah Richàrd

Sarah Richàrd is the director of Edmonds-based Alley Bell Music, an Edmonds School District graduate and former teacher, and the mother of two ESD students.

  1. Well when a community faces budget cuts they threaten a reduction in fire and police. Pushing the people to increase taxation. Never do they talk about cutting the administrative state or newly formed programs. Government gets bigger. Schools are much like government. In my opinion there is plenty of money if properly allocated and arts is part of a healthy education.

  2. The mark of an advanced society is an appreciation for and support of the arts in all their forms. When my daughters were in public school back in the ’90’s and early 2000’s, we noticed that the school district tended to look first at the arts programs as places where expenditures could be cut, while budgets for sports programs were often increased. Neither of my girls were heavily into sports, but both of them were involved in the performing arts, and we were acutely aware of the discrimination present within district leadership against the arts and in favor of sports. If the district needs to cut costs, there should be creative approaches, and a more evenly distributed “shared suffering” across the entire system, thus preserving all avenues available to students of differing interests, talents, and potential for future careers.

  3. Rather than cutting monies for schools we should be supporting our schools even more. The young people we are educating today are the leaders of tomorrow for our communities and our country. Study of the arts – all humanities – make for more well rounded adults. These subject train more than just the study of art or music, they train human brains for better decision making, critical thinking, social interactions as adults, problem solving. Aren’t these qualities that make for better adults? If you educate young people on the cheap, what result will you be expecting? As the previous responded stated, it’s always the arts that get the axe in school budget concerns – and that goes as far back as the 1970’s and ’80’s in the Edmonds School District. Sports are good, but not at the expense of a well rounded education for all of our students.

  4. I’m not in favor of cutting of arts in the Edmonds School District. Playing a variety of instruments in college helped me pay for my undergrad studies. Instead of cutting the arts lets think long and hard about how the district can save money with out of the box ideas. Every idea should be on the table. What if students in the arts had to pay activity fees as students do to play sports? What about a tiered system of percentage pay cuts based on salary. An administrator/teacher making above $100K, gets a 1 percent cut while those under $100K get a different percentage cut. Health insurance plans with higher co-pays/deductibles? What about more technology to save on staffing across the district? What about selling naming rights to multipurpose areas, buildings, theaters, the stadium, etc.? What about more fundraising on a district level and within the music department? What about analyzing why are the programs being cut? Is it reduced enrollment? If so, perhaps the district should survey parents as to why they no long send their kids to district schools and see what would need to happen to get them back?

    1. The answer is not cutting teacher/staff salaries. We are barely hanging onto our teachers and paraeducators as is. But a hard look needs to be taken at the expenditures at the district administrative level. Did you know the elimination of ONE assistant admin position at the district office would be enough to pay the salaries of three paraeducators? Take a look at where our district is putting their money, and what they are prioritizing. Performing arts cuts are happening for multiple reasons. I don’t believe low enrollment is the issue. One of the bigger factors is that there are no class caps on performing arts classes like there are in other subjects. This leads to classes being combined into HUGE classes in order for the FTE to be transferred to another subject. There is also the issue of the district wanting to see a minimum enrollment in all classes in order for them to run. The problem with this is that students cannot learn advanced skills in the performing arts without select ensembles that are typically smaller in size. Suddenly, advanced ensembles are in jeopardy too.

  5. As for charging fees for performing arts classes, this is a moot point if the district will not allot enough FTE to allow them to run. And unlike sports, the performing arts are not an extra-curricular activity. They are a state mandated core subject with academic learning requirements set by the state for every grade. Band and orchestra students already have to buy or rent their own instruments, and all of our high schools have tenacious Music Boosters organizations that actively fundraise to take financial burdens off of the students to keep the performing arts equitable for all. The students and parents are fundraising thousands and thousands of dollars per year, paying for expenses the district has been unable to subsidize. They live in pretty constant fear of their programs disappearing. The parents and students are doing their part. Now the district needs to do theirs, and protect these core (NOT extracurricular!) programs from being cut by almost 20%.

    1. Sarah, Thank you for your insight. My kids will be graduating from high school without taking a music class. Perhaps I’m not understanding that portion of your comments regarding grad requirements. Others ideas I had that I couldn’t fit within 200 words were to lease school space during the summer months to sports and other organizations. Are there portions of school district properties or whole properties that could be sold? One example is the west field of Edmonds ES. What is the dollar value of the 20%? I’m sure the district will find a solution.

    1. Yes photography, etc. 🙂 Now that I read there are 900 less students in the district the cuts make more sense now.

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