The Sunnyside Unified School District eliminated almost half of its elementary school art and music teacher positions this week in its latest round of budget cuts.
Sunnyside’s Governing Board approved the reduction of the teacher positions 3-1 Tuesday night, with board member Buck Crouch the lone dissenting vote.
Board member Bobby Garcia was not present.
Crouch wondered how the district could justify cutting art and music positions while planning to reopen Chaparral Middle School as a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade fine-arts school in 2015-16.
Chaparral will close next year, along with Los Ranchitos Elementary School, because of the budget cuts.
The art and music positions will be reduced from 26 to 14, with the remaining teachers likely rotating between elementary schools, said Assistant Superintendent Jan Vesely.
The teachers will either rotate between two schools every week, each quarter or each semester, Vesely said.
District officials will work with school principals to determine how often the teachers switch before making a final decision next month.
Previously, each elementary school had its own art and music teacher, with kids taking a class in each subject every three days.
“Right now, we’re trying to maximize the time” students spend with art and music teachers, she said.
Sunnyside expects to save about $570,524 from the newest cuts.
District officials maintained an optimistic tone regarding the cuts, expressing satisfaction with its ability to keep art programs.
“The vision we have for the fine arts continues to be strong, innovative, resilient and very positive,” said Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo. “We have been very comprehensive with our approach.”
There were still concerns, as Crouch referred to the cuts as an example of district “schizophrenia.”
If the district expects to have money to reopen Chaparral, then officials should be able to find money to keep art and music teachers in elementary schools, he said.
“This seems like a major schism in thought and strategic planning to me,” he said. “If we’re going to have money to support a fine-arts magnet school in a year, I submit that we probably can find money at fine arts to support it at the level we did before.”
Crouch’s concerns, along with separate questions from board member Daniel Hernandez Jr., led the Governing Board to postpone a measure giving the district staff approval to solicit bids from architects and contractors to remodel Chaparral.
The board expects to make a decision next month after receiving information on how much it will cost to reopen the school.
Sunnyside will pay for the remodeling with bond money, said district Chief Financial Officer Hector Encinas.
The district has $12 million set aside for remodeling the school, Encinas said.
Tuesday’s reductions were the latest in a series of cuts deemed necessary after voters rejected a budget override in November.
Sunnyside will eliminate its toddler and infant classes while reducing preschool classes for low-income students at Ocotillo Early Learning Center.
The district has also cut 30 other jobs, mostly maintenance employees.
The district is looking to save $6 million from all of its budget cuts.