Arts programs in San Francisco schools silenced by budget trouble

San Francisco music programs
Flat: Music, theater and art classes in many San Francisco high schools may be taking the brunt of The City’s budget deficit. (Examiner file photo) 
San Francisco voters were promised improved public education funding when they passed Proposition H in 2004, but they’re not getting what they expected, and some say arts budgets are taking the hit.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, teachers and students pleaded with officials to save music and art programs that individual schools were threatening to cut.

District officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But a clause in Prop. H allows The City to decrease funding whenever its deficit exceeds $100 million. The City is currently projecting a $306 million deficit.
Prop. H directed The City to increase its annual school subsidy for spending on enrichment classes. It provided that one-third be earmarked for sports, libraries, arts and music. The district could use another third for free preschool programs, and the balance for “general uses.”

But despite the desires of voters, the money seems to have strayed from its intended use. In 2006, the board reallocated $1.9 million in “general-use” funds for nurses, social workers, learning consultants and counselors to instead pay teachers.

And now, instead of funding electives, some teachers say the money is being used to support programs in science, math and English.

“When it gets to the schools, they can decide we need that money for advanced biology class so instead they cut one of the arts electives,” Hoover Middle School orchestra teacher Jon Frank said.

One school that has suffered, Frank said, is Abraham Lincoln High School, which many of his students will attend in the fall.

“We had an agreement,” he said. “The school’s principal said it was his highest priority to bring music back and then we found out it’s not happening.”

Lincoln Principal Barnaby Payne said although he would like to reinstate the band program, he doesn’t have the money. Lincoln must cut $600,000 from its budget.

Marina Middle School has cut three music teachers, and music instruction at Lowell, Wallenberg and George Washington high schools is being slashed.

San Francisco Unified School District is expecting to cut $27 million from its $500 million operating budget, in addition to the $113 million already cut through June 30, 2012.

First-year Prop. H funding was just $10 million in 2005-06, but reached $60 million in 2009-10. It is currently at $45 million, and next year will drop to $30 million.

What the cuts look like

Lowell: Reduced vocal and visual art programs
Marina Middle: Cut 3 music teachers
Balboa: Slated to lose orchestra class
Lincoln: No music
O’Connell: No music
Wallenberg: One band class, cut orchestra
Burton: No music
Washington: 0.6 visual arts and 0.2 band classes
School of the Arts: Cut a music technician and a theater technician
Galileo: Cut 1.6 music classes
Districtwide: Elementary visual arts program eliminated

Source: Association of Instructors of Music