School district budget cuts kill jobs and crimp the arts

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EL PASO – In 2010 the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) was looking for ways to cut $2.5 million from the district’s budget. Part of the solution came last week with a sting – the EPISD saved $5.6 million by cutting 116 positions.

Before that decision, the situation had escalated to the possible closing of two elementary schools, Schuster and Zavala. Kenneth Parker, chief officer for the EPISD said the closing of the two elementary schools would save the district about $2.5 million.

Christine Gurrola, a 2nd grade teacher at Green Elementary School, with her class at their photography exhibition. (Isaac Medina/Borderzine.com)

Christine Gurrola, a 2nd grade teacher at Green Elementary School, with her class at their photography exhibition. (Isaac Medina/Borderzine.com)

In the past five years the district has cut $43 million from the budget, without hurting academic courses. On February 23 the EPISD delayed the closing of both elementary schools, and started to look at savings that could be found in Gifted and Talented programs, fine arts and athletics.

Although the state legislature requires schools to provide fine arts classes they don’t seem to be a priority in light of the need for budget cuts. Reporter Caylor Ballinger, who covers EPSID for the El Paso Times told Borderzine that the budget cut is also targeting librarians and schools that have first and second year teachers. As of a few months ago, the cuts started with front office staff such as a Language Proficiency Assessment Committee Clerk or LPAC clerks and At Risk Coordinators.

There is still speculation as to how much must be trimmed from the budget. The EPISD is looking for a total of $61 million in cuts. “This whole budget cut situation is still pretty inconclusive and not many people know what’s going to happen as of yet” said Ballinger.

Some creative teaching programs are threatened by the continuing budget cuts. For example, Christine Gurrola, a 2nd grade teacher at Green Elementary School thought of the idea of using photography to teach her math and science lessons.

With the help of a Title II grant called “T3” she was able to use cameras to enrich her lessons. After a few trial days with the equipment she sent her students to take photos of shadows and nature, which tied into the lessons. Hundreds of pictures later, she was amazed by the results.

“I just couldn’t believe the images the kids were bringing back,” she said.

Mike Mata, Band Director at Canyon Hills Middle School said the budget cuts affected Fine Arts programs by reducing the availability of equipment such as art supplies, instruments, uniforms, music and even contest events.

“In some cases like EPISD Van Go, a van used to bring music lessons to schools that do not offer music class and meets twice a year at each school in EPISD – cuts may finally eliminate that program.”

Schools wouldn’t receive the required amount of instruments to offer students in orchestra and band, he said. “…and that may hurt a music program’s ability to recruit new students looking for a good music program. Usually students are drawn to schools music program when there are newer instruments.”

Another aspect that might take a hit from the cuts is the spirit that comes from a high school marching band. The cost of a set of marching band uniforms can run into several thousand dollars and if a school is unable to acquire the funds to procure these items, the school takes a major hit in school pride and spirit.

The biggest problem Mata said to me was how the hiring of Assistant Band Directors would be affected. That would “increase the work load…and may cut practice time for individual students with their music,” he said.

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