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Parents decry arts cuts in Fayette schools, as arguments persist over where the buck stops

Josh James

With the elimination of an arts program at Cassidy Elementary School sparking a wave of concern about classroom cuts, the Fayette County School Board held special meetings Monday night to address the growing controversy.

Upwards of 50 parents, teachers, students, and arts supporters piled into a room at the district’s headquarters to air frustrations about cuts to arts programs at Cassidy and other schools — with some worrying aloud that it’s the beginning of a trend.

Audience members stressed the importance of arts education, calling it an "absolute must," while questioning why funding isn't sufficient to keep a variety of arts programs in place. One speaker said she sees too much money going to the top and not enough to the schools themselves.

"It falls back on our whole budget and what are we going to allocate to those schools."
Laura Hartke, Kentucky 120 United AFT

An outgoing Cassidy Elementary student described art as "the best thing that has ever happened to me" and pleading with officials to reconsider.

In response, district leaders reiterated what they’ve been saying since the issue erupted: that no cuts or funding formula changes were made at the district level, and the decision at Cassidy was one made by the school’s elected Site-Based Decision Making Council based on its best judgment.

Superintendent Demetrus Liggins noted repeatedly that, with required courses factored in, some arts options wouldn't even fit into schedules. While he had the authority to overrule the decision and regretted seeing the cuts, Liggins wanted to respect the autonomy of the school-based council.

"I did not feel it was my place to tell them you're going to have a fourth fine arts course instead of a foreign language course, when that's what those elected officials decided to do."

But critics argue the site-based councils are a convenient scapegoat when it comes to program cuts. Laura Hartke is an organizer with Kentucky 120 United AFT. She said the councils aren’t given enough to work with in the first place.

"It would be like I have a hundred dollar electric bill, I have a hundred dollar water bill, and somebody's going to give me a hundred dollars," she said. "So this really doesn't fall back on (SBDMs). It falls back on our whole budget and what are we going to allocate to those schools."

The board was given a choice Monday night to either affirm the Cassidy cuts to arts or send the decision back to the council with non-binding recommendations. Neither would have reversed the decision and the turnaround time for the council would have been only 48 hours. Ultimately, the board chose to affirm.

The vote isn’t likely to put the issue to rest, as many at the meeting expressed their intent to push for a reset on the district’s budgeting priorities.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.