Fillmore program at risk of closure again this year: Top official says costs are not sustainable
from Northwest Current, September 28, 2016
By CUNEYT DIL, Current Correspondent
The D.C. Public Schools sys tem plans to close the Fillmore Arts Center at the end of this school year, Chief of Schools John Davis said Monday night.
The arts program, housed at Hardy Middle School on Wiscon- sin Avenue NW, provides weekly instruction to about 1,700 students bussed in from Hyde-Addison, Key, Reed, Ross and Stoddert ele- mentary schools. The school sys- tem originally intended to shut down the center last year, saying the city spends double the amount per pupil at Fillmore compared to other schools’ arts programs, but gave a one-year reprieve after community backlash.
That debate is now set to repeat itself. Parents of students who attend Fillmore continue to make the case for retaining the arts pro- gram, which they say provides superior instruction to what each of the schools could provide on
their own for arts curriculum. Par- ents also note that some of their elementary schools are too tight on space to allow for in-house arts programs.
In phasing out Fillmore, the school system argues that the model is outdated in an age when the District mandates arts educa- tion at every school. Davis, who will become interim schools chan- cellor when Kaya Henderson ends her tenure at the end of the week, described it as an issue of equity.
Speaking to a group of parents Monday night at a meeting of the Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network, Davis said there will be “community engagement” in the coming months on the future of Fillmore and arts education at the five Northwest schools. Facing criticism from Fillmore teachers at the meeting for not visiting the arts program in person, he pledged to do so soon.
In a brief interview after the event, Davis suggested that the centralized model for Fillmore, which started in 1974, isn’t neces- sary now. “In the past, we didn’t have art, music, P.E. across the board” in schools, he said. “Now, we actually do. I think we’re in
a much better place than when Fillmore was needed.”
D.C. Public Schools lists Fillmore as a “highlight” of its arts education offerings on its website. Students are bused once a week to the arts center, participating in dance, music, theater, and visual and digital arts instruction.
To fund Fillmore, the five schools divert their arts instruction funding and the school system adds $600,000, for an operating budget of roughly $1.6 million. Last spring, D.C. Public Schools wrote to the commu- nity that the city spends $1,149 per student to operate Fillmore; in comparison, $458 is spent per student across all elementary schools “to support art and music instruc- tion.”
John Claud, chair of Friends of Fillmore and a Stoddert parent, takes issue with the school system’s equity argument. Claud said in March that the city chose a costlier bus service option that increased the price tag of running the program.
“There’s no appreciation for how great Fillmore is,” he said in an interview.
At Monday’s meeting, he pressed Davis on the reasoning to close Fillmore, but
Davis reiterated, “I don’t have any other issue besides equity.”
Now that the D.C. Public Schools has guaranteed arts programming for each ele- mentary school, Davis said, “you have to ask the question, Do we still need to have [Fillmore] or not?”
Meanwhile, Ruth Wattenberg, the Ward 3 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, countered that in-house arts pro- grams at schools don’t necessarily function as well as D.C. Public Schools thinks.
“I’ve been in many places around the city, and the arts program that’s supposed to be everywhere isn’t actually great at all,” Wattenberg told Davis. “And I think it’s really sad that we’re going to lose this [Fill- more] model.”