Renaissance Arts Academy, a charter school in Los Angeles Unified School District, has a 22,000 square-foot open classroom and stage lights hanging from the ceilings.
The Los Angeles Unified School District plans to increase spending on arts instruction by nearly $16 million over the next three years – but the majority of the new money will go to hire 101 “arts integration” teachers, trainers that will show classroom teachers how to integrate arts into academic lessons, officials said Thursday. (See the budget document below.)
During the same period, the district plans to add 44 new dedicated traveling elementary arts instructors, bringing the total number of dance, choral, music, theater and visual arts elementary teachers to 220. There are about 450 elementary schools in the district.
The figures are from a draft arts education budget school district officials distributed in a Powerpoint presentation to the school board's budget committee Thursday. They did not distribute the document to the public or publish it on the district's website.
School board member Steve Zimmer asked why the new budget reflects a “dramatic increase" in arts integration and a much smaller increase in other areas of arts education when the school board in 2012 directed officials to make arts a core subject.
“The 'arts at the core' resolution signaled the board’s belief that access to arts education in robust and meaningful ways is an instructional priority of the board of education,” Zimmer said. “If it is not an instructional priority of the administration, we need to have that conversation.”
An administrator at the district replied that the district is focusing on arts integration because it's a more cost effective way to serve the district's students.
“It is our belief that ultimately in the arts integration approach it would be actually less expensive to do that that way,” said Gerardo Loera, executive director of the district’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction.
School board member Monica Ratliff said she was “fairly skeptical” of the district’s arts integration approach.
“I would be interested in finding out what research the district had done previously where it has been shown to work,” she said.
Loera said the district also plans to spread its 32 instrumental music teachers to twice the number of schools next year. They'll serve 320 schools instead of 160 – or 10 schools a piece during the school year, according to district numbers, in essence chopping their time at each school from a full year to just one semester.
During the meeting, Zimmer also asked administrators for a deeper dive into the equity issue of which students in the district have access to the arts, something he brought up at last week’s school board meeting.
The budget document showed the district will spend $19,783,968 for arts education in the current school year and plans to increase it gradually to $35,500,389 in 2016-2017 school year.
Officials said they're not even sure they'll be able to increase the funds that much.
“All of this, of course, is dependent on the revenue actually becoming available as well as what the board ultimately decides in terms of its priorities,” said Loera, who led the district’s presentation to the Budget, Facilities and Audit committee.
After the meeting, the district’s K-12 Arts Coordinator Steven McCarthy said the district is heading in the right direction. He said he’ll follow up on board members' questions about arts integration.
“What they gave us is a good start," said Sarah Bradshaw, school board member Bennett Kayser's chief of staff. Kayser requested Thursday's presentation at the budget committee, which he heads. "We’re going to have to do some deep diving on it, check out the realities of it, and go forward, but it’s still not enough.”