Special fund created to save arts, music


Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 12:44 a.m.

A special fund, the Friends of Alachua County Public Schools Elementary Arts Programs, was established at the Gainesville Community Foundation.

Earlier this summer, the School Board and Superintendent Dan Boyd announced that elementary music and art classes would be cut in half to save money after the state announced another cut in funding for schools. Alachua County's solution to the most recent cutback was to reduce art and music classes from a whole year to a half year.

When parents and teachers protested the program being cut in half, Boyd said it would take $850,000 to return the elementary arts program to full year status. He said he was willing to give volunteers a chance to raise the money for the upcoming school year, but they would have to meet the $850,000 goal by July 10.

"We are just a few weeks away from preplanning and we need time to assign teachers and fill vacancies," said district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson.

Retired music teacher Cheryl Poe said it would be possible to raise the money if 6,800 people each donated $125.

"This is a stopgap, a rescue sort of thing, to give the schools time to figure something else out," Poe said. "If we do have to go to half-year art and music, that means each child may only get 15 to 18 classes in music and art a year."

Another retired teacher working on the effort, former Glen Springs art teacher Sue Johnson, said the fundraiser is "a way to buy time, time to re-educate our legislators."

Johnson was one of the original nine art teachers hired when the district developed its elementary school art program in the 1980s. Johnson said she and other organizers "realize that this is a miracle goal, that it has been called a noble effort. But we are all on the same side of the fence on this one - the district, the teachers, the parents, the children. That's what makes this possible, that we are all working together.

Sandra Clifton, a third-grade teacher at Glen Springs, said her hope is also that parents use this effort as a teachable moment with their children.

"I hope parents are talking to their children about the possibility of what August will bring and I hope the children know and understand that people care about them and their schools," Clifton said.

Organizers have a contingency plan if they start raising the money but do not reach the $850,000 goal. The money would be held by the foundation and would accrue interest until the art programs are reinstated by other means. Then the money would be turned over to the district to help the programs return to their full potential, organizers said.

The Gainesville Community Foundation was established in 1998. Each of the foundation's nearly two dozen funds was established for specific reasons, such as the Shands at AGH Thomas H. Maren Nursing Scholarship Fund, the Emmer Recreation Fund and the Charles R. Perry Construction Institute at Santa Fe Community College.

The foundation manages the funds professionally so that they grow over time and will be self-sustaining.

Tax-deductible donations to the Friends of Alachua County Public Schools Elementary Arts Programs can be made by sending a check made out to Gainesville Community Foundation and designated for the Elementary Arts Programs. Mail donations to Gainesville Community Foundation, 5214-A SW 91st Drive, Gainesville, FL 32608.

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