Arts Education in Davis Elementary Schools
This is the first of a two-part story about the arts curriculum and funding in the Davis Joint Unified School District.
Gigi Bugsch, a third-grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary, and Marla Cook, a sixth-grade teacher at Robert E. Willet Elementary, couldn’t help but boast about their students’ artwork. When asked about the art they implement in their classrooms, each teacher roamed around their room adorned with student art, showing the various projects students had been working on, sharing comments about what the students made and the creative process behind it. They talked a little faster while sharing the displayed art, their voices a little higher out of excitement about what their students had produced.
“I wanted some deep colors in here. I wanted some contrasting colors,” Bugsch said. “I ask what do they see in pictures. I asked them what comes to mind when they think of fall.”
With the known lack of funding in California schools, the question arises: which programs are most affected? The arts are often the first to be impacted in education, and the elementary schools in the Davis Joint Unified School District seem to be no exception.
“There isn’t an arts curriculum, and unfortunately, when schools don’t have a lot of money, art is the first to go,” Cook said.
The California Department of Education decides how much funding each school district receives through the Local Control Funding Formula, which was enacted in 2013. DJUSD received a total of $62,269,963 from the state in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the district’s funding snapshot, to be used for the spending of all schools in the district.
“Funding is set based on your student population,” said Matt Duffy, the director of elementary schools for DJUSD. “The new state formula is that schools get a base amount of funding based on their student enrollment and attendance and Local Control Supplemental Funds, which is based off of unduplicated students who are low income, foster students, or homeless. So districts with a higher percentage of those students get a higher amount of funding. Davis is only about 26 percent unduplicated students, so we get a lower percentage.”
According to Koling Chang, the vice president of the Davis School Arts Fund, a nonprofit which fundraises to provide grant money for art projects in Davis schools, the Board of Trustees for the district ultimately votes upon the allocation of funds and to which programs funding will go.
“The Board decides everything,” Chang said. “The budget office of the district knows the amount of money they have. A lot of times the Board, even though they have voting power, they don’t always do what other people want.”
The DJUSD’s Board of Trustees declined an interview with The Aggie.
Before the use of the LCFF, the state dictated the amount of money that was allocated to each school subject.
“It used to be tied,” Cook said. “You had pots of money and programs would get a specific amount of money. And then we were going through a hard financial time about 10 to 15 years ago, and people didn’t want to be tied to it anymore, so the state untied it. Certain programs were gotten rid of; we couldn’t afford art. Although art was never required, as it is now, this district allocates really zero money to art.”
The California Department of Education outlines content standards for visual and performing arts into five guiding principles that apply to each discipline and mirror the expectations of each grade level: artistic perception, creative expression, historical and cultural context, aesthetic valuing and connections, relationships and applications. However, with the LCFF in place, there is no allotment of funds made specifically for these standards. Moreover, Common Core, the national education standards used in curriculum implementation, does not include visual and performing arts in its California State Standards.
According to Duffy, elementary schools in the district have a music program starting in fourth grade that they “are welcome to participate in during the school day.” The music program is funded through “a local parcel tax that makes up 11 percent of the general operating fund, and this is a parcel tax measure that was voted on by the voters of Davis.”
However, fine art opportunities vary by elementary school. According to Bugsch, there are no after-school programs or art classes required at Cesar Chavez. Rather, teachers can decide how to implement art in their classroom. Cook confirmed the same for Robert E. Willet.
DJUSD did not comment on how a visual and performing arts discipline is decided to be offered within the district.
Most art instruction is then reliant on teachers and how much art they decide or are able to implement in the classroom. However, funds for art instruction and supplies in the classroom are from each teacher’s own budget.
“We get a certain amount of money in our account, so that money can go towards supplies,” Bugsch said. “You can use the money that is in your account at your discretion. For a teacher who has been here a long time, like me — I’ve been here for 20 years — I have a lot of supplies that I have accumulated over the years, so I don’t need a lot of start up materials. For a new teacher, it would be more difficult to start new.”
Moreover, according to Cook, all other supplies needed for the classroom, like
“lined paper and photocopy paper,” must also come out of that budget.
The DSAF was created in 1978 after the passage of Proposition 13, which “forced the school district to make deep cuts in the art education budget” and “was set up as a matching funds organization with the district to keep art education alive in Davis public school,” according to its website. Through the DSAF, teachers can receive additional funding for art projects they want to hold in their classrooms.
“A classroom teacher wants to do a craft in the classroom, and we can fund the paper and the materials,” Chang said. “In the beginning of every school year, we open grant applications from teachers or parents to file for specific projects, and each grant will be associated with a teacher in the district. Including the matching budget from the district, we can give about 60k from the foundation. We can give $40,000 in a year, and the district can match about $20,000 — these numbers are rough estimates. We fund about 80 projects a year. But this is still not a big enough amount of money.”
However, according to Cook, while the DSAF is beneficial in helping to bring more art into the classroom, it supports “a project but not ongoing art.”
According to Duffy, how much money is allocated to the arts in elementary schools is a matter of balancing resources.
“I’m a big supporter of the arts, so it is by no means not valued by our administration or teachers,” Duffy said. “It’s deciding how to spend a limited amount of resources and knowing the core subjects of English, math, science and social studies are the things we need to make sure students are successful at.”
It must be noted that art is not the only subject impacted by limited funds.
“I don’t think the district puts any money into the high school robotics program, Citrus Circuits, other than the advisor’s salary,” Cook said. “It is not just arts that are being affected […] I have heard from parents, ‘Well if you have the money then arts are great, but you have to have extra money.’ To me it’s part of the fabric of learning. You can’t just take it out. There’s no subject that it doesn’t fit in and find some connections.”
Written by: Caroline Rutten — email@example.com