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Highland School Board rejects pleas for art position again, adds two other positions

Highland School District students were among the many artists whose works were exhibited and for sale at annual Art in the Park at Lindendale Park.
Highland School District students were among the many artists whose works were exhibited and for sale at annual Art in the Park at Lindendale Park. kmansouri@bnd.com

Members of Highland’s art community experienced déjà vu as the Highland School Board passed over the art program a second time in three months and instead voted to add positions in other areas of the district.

The board room, which had no empty seats Monday night, went silent as the board approved the new positions motion, despite arguments advocating for the need for an additional art teacher.

The discussion of adding back positions to programs slashed during deficit years was brought to the board three months ago. At the time, Superintendent Mike Sutton recommended an additional art teacher and two building trade teachers to the budget.

However, the school board approved the building trades positions but passed on adding an art teacher, in favor of adding a home economics position instead.

Sutton said while two months ago he recommended adding an art position, the need for a new technology position and facilities position ranked higher.

“Two months ago I recommended the art position. I could not come back, two months after the board declined the position, and recommend it again,” Sutton said. “You’ve heard for three months testimony about the art position. That is up to you.”

Three full-time art teachers are split between Highland’s six schools. The addition of the position would have increased the amount of time kindergarten through fifth-grade students would have in art class. Teachers say currently students are getting 10 to 15 minutes of actual work done in class.

Longtime district art teacher Laura Wander-Vrell said the position also would significantly cut down the number of time teachers spend traveling from school to school, give them more time to get to know their students and plan classes.

He said while the art program and adding to the school’s offerings is important, having a staff that can support the school also is a priority. With more than $100,000 put into the technology department alone and the retirement of a veteran groundskeeper in the district, he said it was important the board take those positions under consideration as well.

“I don’t like the idea of recommending facilities and technology while not putting someone in the classroom when we obviously have a need that needs to be addressed,” Sutton said. “What I’m recommending — and I know we’ve heard for two months and tonight about the art position — but we need to address the facilities and technology.”

Chief Educational Technology Officer Matt Fredericksen echoed Sutton’s thoughts. He said with the implementation of so much technology in the past few years, his staff is having trouble keeping up with training teachers to use the devices they’re given.

“The biggest thing we’re missing is spending time with the teachers,” Fredericksen said. “They’ve done a lot on their own, but to really leverage the dollars we spend on technology we need to spend time in the classroom with those teachers.”

Earlier in the night the board also approved roughly $1.7 million worth of upgrade projects, another reason Sutton said it was important to add a position to the facilities staff. The funds for those projects will from a fund allocated toward construction.

“We’re already struggling to keep up with what we do,” Sutton said.

Sutton noted that hiring the technology and facilities position would come out to roughly $55-60,000 total, while hiring one art teacher at a minimum would cost $40,000 a year, possibly more.

“We’re here to educate kids,” he said. “But at the same time we have to be somewhat conservative in protecting the budget.”

The board approved the new facilities and technology positions 4-1, with one member of the board absent. A motion to add the art position was made by board member Robert Miller but failed due to lack of a second.

The school board will meet again Monday, Feb. 25, at the district administrative building.

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