D.C. cuts funding for elementary school programs at local arts center

Media Credit: Spencer Strauss | Hatchet Photographer

City officials cut funding for an arts program that bussed students from five local schools to the Fillmore Arts Center in Georgetown.

Community members are pushing back against a decision to cut funding to the Fillmore Arts Center, a center in Georgetown that hosts art programs for five elementary schools.

The five public schools – Key, Ross, Marie Reed, Hyde-Addison and Stoddert – will have art programs at their respective locations instead of at the Fillmore after city officials cut the program by $500,000, a spokeswoman for D.C. Public Schools said.

The change could save the city money, but a leader at the Fillmore said the schools are overcrowded and don’t have space to dedicate to the arts.

Each school dedicates one day of the week to bus their students to the Fillmore to take classes like theater, dance, pottery and digital arts. The Fillmore and two of the schools are in Ward 2, the same ward as Foggy Bottom.

GW acquired the Fillmore building last winter as part of its merger with the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Officials sold the building to a nonprofit called the S&R Foundation last spring.

John Claud, the president of the board at the Fillmore, said he was “shocked” to find out that funding was cut.

“We had no idea it was coming,” he said. “It really shakes our confidence in these folks to work with us and consider us as parental partners in their education.”

Claud said he wished DCPS would engage parents of students at the impacted schools and the board before making decisions affecting the school’s funding.

“Why can’t we talk about this before these cuts were made?” Claud said. “The lack of engagement is really frustrating.”

A group of parents and community members called “Friends of Fillmore” created a petition at least two weeks ago to restore the previous arts program at Fillmore to the children attending the five schools. More than 1,200 people have signed the petition so far.

The organizers of the petition are also encouraging community members to reach out to DCPS, the D.C. Council and the mayor’s office directly about the arts center.

Michelle Lerner, a spokeswoman for DCPS, said having students participate in arts programs in their schools will cut back on transportation and administrative costs. She said the city budget allocates $17.5 million for elementary schools to have art, physical education and language at their respective schools.

“At one time, more schools participated in the Fillmore, which made the program more cost effective, but we cannot continue to fund this program for five schools,” Lerner said.

Lerner said that DCPS spends about $458 per student for art programming and that the students will have arts education in a “school-based model” where teachers in their respective school teach art and music.

“Providing arts and music instruction is critical to the success of our students in providing a well-rounded education,” Lerner said. “We will work with the leaders of each of these five schools to ensure that students have robust arts and music programming and space to do so.”

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