“It’s funny, that building,” said Kristi Janzen, referring to the William Sasscer Administration Building in Upper Marlboro. “It’s decorated with photos of children participating in the arts.”
Janzen’s observation might seem odd, were that building not a place in which the county's poised to eliminate six full-time positions from the county’s Creative and Performing Arts (CPA) schools next year.
The cut, among several others in Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s $1.69 billion budget, would save the Prince George’s County school system $413,000 yet widen the CPA teacher-to-student ratio — now at one to 100 — by 20 students.
This makes little sense to Janzen, a mother of three from University Park, who spoke before the board recently.
“The arts — from choir and instrumental to writing, visual arts, dance and more — are necessary because children who study arts perform better academically,” she told the board. “Perhaps more importantly, the arts bring us to life and train our brains for abstract thought.”
Janzen's right, concluded a scientific evaluation on the CPA programs at Hyattsville Middle School, where Janzen’s daughter, Clara, attends the 7th grade.
Conducted by the school system's Department of Research and Accountability, the January 2010 evaluation revealed “consistently” higher rates of math and reading scores among CPA students over non-CPA students — “even after controlling for prior performance, FARMs (free and reduced meals) participation, and (the) racial/ethnic background of students in each of the (test) groups.”
Yet arts education remains an “easy target,” said Janzen, who also feels unease over plans to cut 90 media specialists from the school system. “My daughter said to me, ‘Mommy, how could they cut media specialists when the future is all about technology?”’ Janzen said. “It’s foolish, right?”
Many others question the logic behind shoring up the county’s deficits through fewer teachers, fewer programs and larger classroom sizes.
In fact, during a recent Parent Talk radio broadcast hosted by Education Journal’s Michael Robinson, guest Khadijah “Moon” Ali-Coleman, herself a mother, author and arts advocate, characterized the cuts as arbitrary in nature, based largely on theory rather than hard evidence.
“When we speak of evidenced-based decision making, you’re talking about programs, experts, actions, things that are implemented based on study and results,” Ali-Coleman said, later adding: “Everything (in Prince George’s County) a lot of times seems very haphazard.”
Meanwhile, Board of Education member Peggy Higgins (Dist. 2) said that while she “respects the professionalism” of those proposing the cuts, and “what they’re looking at” in determining those cuts, clearly CPA programs are vital to the school system.
“Nobody wants these cuts. I think that’s been said over and over again. But we (still) have an $85 million gap,” she added.
Higgins, whose district comprises 17 schools in Prince George’s County, said she plans to focus more on reversing the budget's $8 million in transportation cuts that would prevent some students from accessing CPA and other specialty programs altogether. “My focus has really been to see what we can do to keep (that) transportation,” she said.
School board officials are scheduled to discuss and adopt Hite's budget Thursday evening at the Sasscer Administration Building. From there, the budget would be passed on to the county council for further negotiations and approval.
For more information about these cuts and others, please visit the PGCPS website.