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Possibility of grade-school art cutback prompts concern

By Mary Clarkin

The Hutchinson News

Hutchinson USD 308 could reduce the number of its elementary art teachers from four to three, and Mark Rassette, executive director at the Hutchinson Art Center, 405 N. Washington St., said that would be setback.

The district's four elementary art teachers are responsible for eight schools. Art instructor Sondra Horning, covering Graber Elementary School and Hutchinson Magnet School at Allen, is retiring. If Horning's position is not filled, a realignment of duties among the three remaining elementary art instructors -- Teddy Gingerich, Kylie Sampson, and Kelli Fast -- would occur, they have been told.

Instead of an art instructor visiting a class every two weeks, the instructor probably would see a class every three weeks if the workload was increased.

There have been "personal meetings with staff who could -- and key word there is 'could' -- be impacted by the budget," USD 308 spokesman Ray Hemman wrote in an email response to an inquiry by The News.

"We are in the midst of our budget process," USD 308 Superintendent Shelly Kiblinger said. "No decisions are final," she emphasized.

The art instructors declined to be interviewed.

USD 308 administrators, staff and community members have talked about cost-cutting measures that could be presented to the Board of Education. Eliminating one art instructor post has been mentioned.

The last meeting of these public input sessions is 5:30 p.m. Monday at Hutchinson High School, when the recommendations will be agreed upon. The Board of Education will get the recommendations April 28, and take action in May, Kiblinger said.

Rassette said USD 308 once had only one art teacher for all the elementary schools but over a number of years, and through "Herculean efforts" by Horning, the number grew to four teachers, he said.

Each spring, sixth-grade student art is exhibited at the Hutchinson Art Center.

"Not five minutes ago," Rassette told The News on Thursday afternoon, people who play bridge at the art center were commenting on how wonderful the sixth-grade art is, the skill and the imagination shown, he said.

"And that's because you have instruction by somebody who is trained," he said.

When art teachers go into the classroom, they aren't giving students just photocopied forms, said Teresa Preston, retired art instructor at Hutchinson Community College who still teaches art online.

"So many students love their art, and it saves them. It's their little spot in the school," Preston said.

Preston said she suspects the school district considers art as "frivolous," but from clothes to cars, from draperies to furniture, Preston said, "everything was developed by a designer."

Horning's teaching position is currently being advertised. "We are taking applications," Kiblinger said. "I don't believe we have interviewed anybody yet."

USD 308 assumes the average cost for a full-time teacher at $50,000, taking into account fringe benefits and worker-related expenses in addition to salary.

The Kansas Legislature passed a school finance bill this month that would mean an approximately $102,000 reduction in money for USD 308's general fund, although the capital outlay fund would increase by more than that amount. The general fund cut, combined with rising costs, has USD 308 searching for areas to trim spending in the 2014-2015 budget.

Potential band and orchestra cuts had also been mentioned, but Kiblinger indicated those cuts were not anticipated. Cutting a physical education position at Hutchinson High School also has been discussed, she said.

Kiblinger said she keeps hearing elimination of the art position is a done deal, but that is not the case.

"This is absolutely still in the talking-about-it-stage," Kiblinger said.

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News