Fillmore Backers Decry Impact of Budget Cuts

Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
Fillmore Arts Center backers warn that proposed budget cuts would harm the multi-school arts program.
Fillmore Arts Center backers warn that proposed budget cuts would harm the multi-school arts program.

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

The D.C. Public School system’s proposed budget for Fillmore Arts Center includes cuts so significant that some fear the multi-school arts program won’t be viable next year.

For the 2013-14 school year, Fillmore is projected to provide arts education for approximately 3,000 pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students from eight different schools. That’s the same number of students the program served in 2011-12 — but the proposed budget would reduce its funding by more than $300,000 from that year. The program’s total budget for the 2014 fiscal year would be $1,063,370.

The cuts would be “devastating,” according to Friends of Fillmore, a volunteer group that functions like a PTA for the arts school. The center could be forced to replace four of its five full-time teachers with part-time hourly employees, and stakeholders fear the school would be stripped of its renowned high-quality programming.

The change would leave Fillmore with “no hope of viability,” according to an online petition the friends group launched last week on change.org.

D.C. Public Schools spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz said in an interview that “DCPS expects to have more information about Fillmore’s budget next week, after the mayor releases his budget.” She noted three fewer schools will attend Fillmore next year, which impacted its initial budget allocation.

But Friends of Fillmore treasurer Peter Eisler argues that it’s not the number of schools participating that should impact the budget, but rather the number of students who attend.

Fillmore currently provides music, visual arts, drama and dance programs to Stoddert, Key, Ross, Marie Reed, Hyde-Addison, Garrison and Houston elementary schools and Raymond Education Campus at two locations: Fillmore West, co-located at Hardy Middle School in Georgetown, and Fillmore East, co-located at Raymond Education Campus in Petworth. Another three schools — Burrville, Drew and Ludlow-Taylor — host classes taught by Fillmore instructors.

Garrison, Houston, Burrville and Drew were not on Eisler’s list of next year’s schools; Nalle Elementary will be a new participant.

Fillmore’s resources include a black box theater, a kiln, musical instruments and a computer lab for digital art projects. The program began in 1974 at a facility adjacent to the current Georgetown site, when school system officials determined that offering arts education in a central location could provide a stronger curriculum than the neighborhood schools could offer on their own. It was also a way to bolster public support for neighborhood schools that were experiencing reduced enrollment; the original Fillmore site on 35th Street had previously been a neighborhood elementary school.

Friends of Fillmore launched its online petition late last week, asking community members to urge D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to restore the program’s funding to the 2011-12 level. The group also states that Fillmore has been consistently defunded over the past four years, saying that budget has decreased more than 40 percent during that time based on per-pupil funding allocations. The petition had 724 signatures as of the Current’s deadline yesterday.

This year’s cuts to arts and music education at the eight schools come at a curious time: When Henderson announced her citywide school closure and consolidation plan last November, she that said by shuttering 20 schools (reduced in January to 15) the school system would be able to fund more programming, including arts and music, at those that remained open.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” said Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans. “The school system has plenty of money — it has more money than any school system in America. … It has everything it had last year plus a 2 percent [annual] increase, and they closed a bunch of schools, so what are they spending their money on?”

“It’s surprising to say the least that they would cut any school, anywhere in the city,” Evans added. “It just sinks the confidence of the parents in the system when they do things like this.”

Evans said he would work to restore funding to Fillmore, and he noted that at-large Council member David Catania, who chairs the education committee, needs to figure out what’s going on. Catania’s office didn’t respond to The Current’s request for comment.
Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh also voiced support for Fillmore, saying the decision to cut the program’s budget is “worrisome” and seems to “run counter to what [Henderson] said about providing enrichment through arts programming.”

Fillmore’s community members are also puzzled by the budget cuts.

“What we’ve seen with Fillmore’s budget over the past several years absolutely flies in the face of what we’re hearing from DCPS about its commitment to arts education,” said Eisler of the friends group. “Fillmore’s per-pupil funding has been cut steadily and dramatically in each of the past four years, and the cut that they’re proposing for next year is the biggest one yet.”

“Individual schools aren’t able to provide the kind of service and programming Fillmore offers,” Eisler added. “Fillmore can operate on the budget provided, but we fear that we’re going to lose some of our best and most experienced teachers, and there’s no way that we can run the same program that we ran two years ago for this number of children for $312,000 less.”

This article appears in the March 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.