Highland News Leader

School board says no to adding full-time art position, despite requests from public

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

A move to bolster Highland Community Unit District 5’s art program failed Monday night.

The task of deciding which programs should be reinstated with state funds coming back continued at the meeting of the school board, where the board narrowly voted down a motion to add an additional full-time art position, 4-3.

Last month the school board approved three new positions in the school district, bringing back the building trades program and adding an additional family and consumer economics positions to the payroll after years of tight budgets and cuts.

Members of the city and school district art community came out in force Monday night in an effort to sway the Highland school board in favor of adding the additional program.

Currently, 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.

“It is a hole in our curriculum,” said Julie Korte, Highland Primary principal. “It’s slightly embarrassing for a city like Highland who turns out so many graduates and so many talented people to not have a solid art program all the way through.”

For most students kindergarten through fifth grade, art is taught for roughly 10 to 15 minutes once a week. That’s not enough, Korte says.

She said along with the lack of time students have in the classroom, the pace at which art teachers have to teach is hampering their instructional talents.

“We have a very exceptional art staff right now, but most of them aren’t even tapping their full potential because they don’t have time,” Korte said. “When you only have 10 or 15 minutes for little kids to draw, that’s not enough time for them to create.”

Korte said her daughter, who is now in college, is an example of a Highland student who wanted to explore the arts but didn’t have the time or resources available to her.

Robin Ermer, president of the Highland Art Parents Association, said the art program’s lack of options made it difficult for her daughter to get into the art schools she was interested in. She said with the lack of classes, students have small portfolios that are often limited in their range of techniques.

Retired art teacher Kathy Burns said the demand for the classes is there and without adding another position, the district wouldn’t be fulfilling the students’ wants and needs. She added that with the number of students who have gone on to work at places like Disney and Adidas through their art is a sign the program is important.

Their pitch wasn’t enough to sway the majority of the school board to fill the extra position. Less than a month after adding the three new positions, four members of the board agreed it was best to be cautious with spending.

“We’re racing toward this and we need to slow down,” said board member Rene’ Friedel.

Friedel said she wanted to know the value and wanted to know what the impact would be on the budget. She said the process felt rushed and said more information was needed before making a new position.

Board member Robert Miller argued the position should be added to at least bring the district in line with other Mississippi Valley Conference schools.

“We always say we want to put kids first,” Miller said. “The rubber meets the road when you put a teacher in the classroom working with kids. That’s putting kids first.”

Board member Aaron Schuster agreed.

“So far as I see it every dime we have available should be spent on teachers educating kids and there’s a need for that,” Schuster said. “This was a need recommended that we’ve talked about this for a long time. We’re far below the line of comparable schools, it affects K-12 and it was recommended by the superintendent.”

Friedel said the board needs to focus on what the next few years look like before it starts approving funding for more programs. She said with the future of the state unclear, she wasn’t ready to vote yes on the program. Friedel voted against adding the building trades positions for the same reasons.

She said she worries rushing to add these programs will lead to more cuts in the future.

“I was there, I’m part of the group that had to cut, and it was brutal,” Friedel said. “We want to create this beautiful thing, but I don’t want to take it away from you in two years. We don’t know what this new governor is going to be like or what the state will look like in a few years.”

David Raymond, another board member, said adding back the building trades and FACS position had the most impact on students. He said art may impact some, but not as many.

“I’m not going to say we don’t need art, but I am going to say that the moves we made in the vocational area have benefited the largest population with a group of hires that is probably the most beneficial to the most students,” Raymond said.

The board voted down a motion to add the position 4 to 3, with Miller, Schuster and Board President Jim Gallatin voting yes.

Board Vice President Joe Mott, the deciding vote, said he voted no for the position but does, in fact, want to add to the art program in the long run. He said he didn’t want the board to rush into approving a position the district may not be able to afford.

Gallatin said the board may discuss adding the position again in the future.

The board will meet next Monday, Jan. 28.

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.