By Connie Llanos Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group/Daily News,Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun, Redlands Daily Facts, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News
December 6, 2009 - For 9-year-old Ferran Romero, there is no sweeter sound than the boisterous bellows of his trombone.
"It sounds like an elephant," Ferran said as he balanced the brass instrument, nearly his size.
The fourth-grade student started playing the trombone last year thanks to a Los Angeles Unified program that brings music, dance, theater and art classes to every elementary school in the district.
The program was launched by LAUSD 10 years ago as part of a districtwide effort to restore arts education at local schools. However, LAUSD's current budget crisis threatens to undo many of the recent gains.
Half of the district's 355 elementary arts and music teaching positions are set to be cut next year - and halved again by 2012 - as the district looks for ways to close a nearly $500 million budget deficit.
The cuts would leave 172 teachers out of a job next year, force many teachers to switch schools during the layoff process, threaten the future of dozens of programs and leave thousands of kids with no music or art.
"I don't know where else I would go to play the trombone," Ferran said. "I don't know anyone else who has a trombone and I have nowhere else to practice."
Arts advocates who have struggled for years to restore LAUSD's arts programs describe the cuts as devastating.
"I went through 10 years of receiving pink slips every year before the district decided to make arts a priority," said music teacher Linda Mouradian, a 31-year LAUSD veteran.
"Now we've finally brought this joy back and here we go again back on the chopping block."
In 1999, the LAUSD board unanimously approved a resolution that promised to reinstate dance, theater, music and visual arts classes for all students, at all grade levels, in all schools.
The push came after nearly two decades of limited funding for arts education after Proposition 13 was approved in 1978 and seriously restricted revenue from property taxes. When funding for schools was depleted, arts programs - seen as luxuries - were the first to go.
At LAUSD, theater programs were shut down, dance classes disappeared, band instruments were sold off and teachers were laid off.
Two decades later, advocacy efforts from community arts organizations, parents and educators helped restore funding for arts programs and shift the attitude about arts being "non-essential."
California created standards for arts curriculum and the federal government included the arts as core classroom curriculum.
The mves led to an increase in funding for arts programs that this year finally allowed the district to bring performing and visual arts classes to all of its 501 elementary schools. Programs at the middle school and high school level, where arts are offered as electives, were also increased.
Then last year, when the district faced a $400 million deficit, state grant funding that was earmarked for the arts was used to help close the budget gap. The district, which had begun hiring local community arts organizations to run additional educational programs at schools, had to freeze all program spending.
The proposed cuts for next year would mean schools could only offer music every other year and to only a portion of their students.
Arts, dance and theater classes would have to spread to schools on a three-year rotation.
"We've spent 11 years building this wonderful program that's become a model for urban districts throughout the nation. It is simply devastating that we might lose it," said Robin Lithgow, LAUSD's elementary arts coordinator.
Arts are not the only thing facing hard times.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines has called for cuts next year that include slashing school nurses by
50 percent and school police and campus aides by a quarter, unless concessions are reached with the district's employee unions.
Arts advocates hope Cortines will reconsider.
"Those who can afford to do so will pull their kids out of public school," said Spike Dolomite Ward, an LAUSD parent and founder of the Arts and Education Council.
Just like layoffs with regular teachers, performing and visual arts teachers will be laid off by classification and seniority. So to lay off elementary music teachers, all of LAUSD's music teachers will be put on a list based on how many years they have been working with the district. Those with the least amount of tenure in the district will be laid off first.
Lithgow said despite grim prospects she hopes to organize a massive fundraising effort, along with her teachers, who plan to use holiday recitals and winter shows as a way to connect with parents and raise awareness. Community leaders and philanthropists will also be tapped in an effort to prevent an entire new generation of students from being shut out of an arts education.
"We cannot take the joy of producing music, of performing a dance, of reciting lines on a stage away from these kids," Mouradian said. "Once we take it away we will never get it back."