Gearing up for Tuesday's Upper Darby school board vote on a proposed 2012-13 budget that includes the elimination of elementary school music and art classes, physical-education teachers and librarians, more than 500 parents, students, and supporters turned out at a board meeting to protest.
District administrators at the Tuesday night meeting presented a sobering budget picture. They blamed a $13 million budget shortfall on state funding cuts, increased payments to charter schools, and eroding local revenues. Cutting elementary school arts and other programs would save about $3 million; eliminating middle school foreign language and technology classes would save an additional $645,000. The cuts would terminate 52 jobs.
The demonstrators gathered outside Upper Darby High School before the meeting, many wearing black and carrying musical instruments and signs. Members of a middle school choral group performed songs; some of the music teachers who might lose their jobs greeted parents and students with hugs.
The prospect of cuts is "painful, knowing what the arts does for this community," said Victor Cummings, a music teacher at Hillcrest Elementary. Classroom teachers, he said, "can't provide the same instruction" as music majors like himself and his colleagues. Art and music, he said, are called "?'specials' subjects for a reason."
Current parents weren't the only ones to voice opposition. Mary Kidd, a 1980 Upper Darby High graduate whose own children have graduated, said she came because the education "we had in elementary school arts has stayed with us throughout our lives."
During the meeting, administration officials said that the 12,140-student district has few ways to make up its budget shortfall. Superintendent Louis DeVlieger said that alternatives, such as cutting kindergarten and busing, would also bring hardship and affect school performance. "The choices [available to the district] are getting fewer and fewer," he said, leading to the current "conversation of desperation."
Business manager Edward Smith said "the next couple of years look even worse" for the district, and "very difficult decisions must be made. The face of public education as we know it is changing." Even with the proposed cuts, he said, a tax increase of 3.5 percent and $4 million in district savings will be needed to balance the budget.
Afterward, protest organizers said they were mobilizing to pressure area legislators and Gov. Corbett for increased state funding so the programs can be saved. "We are not going to be able to make up the deficit by taxing our homeowners," said Carolyn Caron, the mother of a sixth grader.
In an interview Wednesday, School Board President Maureen Carey said she and other board members were meeting with legislators and seeking to talk to Corbett. "We are trying all avenues," she said.
"All of us are deeply saddened that drastic measures have to be taken," Carey added. "Boards are now forced to look at how to do the least amount of harm. … There is no area [of cuts] that is not going to hurt somebody — it's horrific."