Arts advocates disappointed by Grand Forks School Board decision to cut teaching positions
Budget reduction eliminates seven teaching positions for next school year
Minutes after the Grand Forks School Board voted to eliminate seven teaching positions, including the coordinator of the Artist in the Classroom program, Nicole Derenne was notably disappointed.
Derenne was among many in the audience of Monday's board meeting who had urged the board to preserve arts and humanities program staff in next year’s budget.
“It is certainly a disappointment,” Derenne said after the lengthy meeting April 12. “I’m more disappointed for students. I’m disappointed for teachers and I’m disappointed for families in Grand Forks – and for our community (because) now we don’t have standards-based art education at the elementary level.”
Derenne, an at-large member of the ArtWise board of directors, had urged the School Board to maintain the Artist in the Classroom program.
But the board, in a 6-3 vote, approved the recommendation of its Finance Committee to eliminate the position of the program’s coordinator and six other teaching positions from the 2021-22 budget. The meeting lasted past 10 p.m., and included more than two hours of discussion on the cuts before the board voted.
The move, part of a $4.4 million budget reduction for next year, is the first step in a process to reduce the district’s budget by 10%, or $10.8 million, over the next two school years. Another round of budget trimming will have to occur in the upcoming school year, administrators said.
Voting in favor of the reduction in force recommendation at Monday’s meeting were Doug Carpenter, Chris Douthit, Jacqueline Hassert, Eric Lunn, Jeff Manley and Bill Palmiscno. Those opposed were Amber Flynn, Shannon Mikula and Cynthia Shabb.
The teachers whose positions have been cut are Mary Kulas, Artist in the Classroom; Autumn Hanson and Bryan Walls, art; Alexander Barta, choir; Kelly King, orchestra; and Jason Hawley and Kara Hung, world languages program. All are full-time employees except Hanson and Barta, who are 0.6 full-time equivalent employees.
“We have to make these difficult cuts,” said Carpenter, who serves on the board’s Finance Committee. “We have to reduce staff, as ugly as it is, as painful as it is.”
The district is “at a point where we have to make difficult decisions,” said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager. “We’re in a huge budget crunch. (Without this budget reduction) we’ll get to October and we’re not going to have any money in the bank.”
At the end of June, the district will “have two weeks of operating funds,” Berge said, noting that 87% of the budget is invested in people, with the remainder covering other expenses.
Not all of the audience members were urging the board to reconsider the cuts. David Frisch encouraged board members to adopt the budget reduction plan.
“I’m tired of taxes,” he said, noting that he’d been through two reductions-in-force in government employment. “Look at it as a business.”
Frisch also urged board members and school district administrators “to fight for money from Bismarck,” including investment from the state’s Legacy Fund. No government entity should have a fund that large, he said.
Several board members, including Shabb, questioned whether other options – such as grant funding or principals managing two small schools – were considered as means of solving budget problems. Other options were considered, the board was told, in an effort to avoid personnel cuts as much as possible.
Derenne and others are skeptical about ArtWise possibly assuming a role in art education in schools. ArtWise is a nonprofit organization, she said. “It’s the responsibility of Grand Forks Public Schools to provide art education to all elementary students.”
With board approval of these budget cuts, that responsibility will fall onto the shoulders of classroom teachers, Derenne said. “Without mentoring or a coach, I don’t know how that will be implemented. I can’t really speculate on it.”
The decision to eliminate Artist in the Classroom affects the school district’s status in art education, she said.
“My concern is that other districts – Fargo and West Fargo – have standards-based art education at the elementary level,” Derenne said, adding that ending the Artist in the Classroom program “puts Grand Forks behind other districts in our area (including) Central Valley school in Buxton.”
That school employs a certified art teacher who provides 30 minutes of visual arts education to elementary students each week, said Rita Haag, executive director of the ArtWise program.
ArtWise is still going to provide art education, “but you’re not going to get that equity” in education that a school-based curriculum program provides, Haag said.
Artist in the Classroom has been a part of the Grand Forks' educational program for a long time.
“It’s 28 years of an investment that they’ve thrown away,” Haag said. “It’s sad.”
The ArtWise art show, on display at Columbia Mall for the next three weekends, includes art by every elementary student in the district, she said. “It’s a testament to what the district has lost.”
Teachers whose positions have been cut have the option of a hearing, set for 6 p.m. Monday, April 19, to present a case to maintain their employment. Those who are members of the Grand Forks Education Association may be represented by North Dakota United, if they choose to participate in the hearing, Melissa Buchhop, GFEA president, told the board. Six of the seven teachers whose positions were cut are GFEA members, Buchhop said.