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East County Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021 8 months ago

Manatee School District adds visual and performing arts to millage allocations

If 1-mill ad valorem property tax is renewed, arts programs will be bolstered.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

The Lakewood Ranch High School theater department has been a thriving program with dozens of students each year eager to put on performances for the school and community.

During the pandemic, it became nearly impossible for the theater department to put on any productions due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The only production was a “Zoomsical” in which a small portion of students performed virtually.  

Since the School District of Manatee County doesn't provide funding for the program, and because the program made almost no revenue during the pandemic, Roxane Caravan, the director of Lakewood Ranch High School’s theater department, said her program is practically a start-up program this year. 

“The hits we’ve taken in the arts in general is just astronomical,” Caravan said. “I feel like I’m starting all over again. Now, in year 21 of having a pretty thriving theater program, in less than two years our programs have been destroyed because we haven’t had the ability to perform or fundraise.”

Lakewood Ranch High School’s theater department, along with dozens of other K-12 visual and performing arts programs across the district, could begin to receive funding if voters choose to renew the district’s 1-mill ad valorem property tax referendum Nov. 2.

The millage increase was approved by voters in March 2018 with 51% of the vote. Money from the additional millage currently goes toward 30 additional minutes of daily instructional time, salaries for teachers and staff, charter schools and enhancing career and technical education and STEM programs.

The school district decided to add visual and performing arts to the millage to support the various arts programs throughout its 47 traditional schools. Visual and performing arts includes typical art classes, band, choir, orchestra, ceramics, digital arts, drawing, painting and photography.

Jeremiah Bowman, the curriculum and instruction specialist for visual and performing arts for the School District of Manatee County, said an arts education task force, which is a committee made up of district personnel and community members, developed an arts implementation plan that would address needs of art programs in the schools. 

The task force is hoping the millage can address six goals: to increase enrollment in arts programs and middle and high schools; to provide professional development for all arts teachers; to improve and upgrade classrooms and facilities; to create a marked pathway for aspiring student artists that would go through Manatee Elementary, Electa Arcotte Lee Magnet Middle School and Bayshore High School; to provide funding for teaching positions; and to purchase equipment and technology to help upgrade arts programs.

Bowman said the district would need to allocate at least $5 million per year to visual and performing arts programs to accomplish the task force’s goals. 

“(The millage) would ensure that all schools across the district

have more resources available to their students so it’s not based on what a school can fundraise but what the district can supplement and provide,” Bowman said. “We’re definitely at a watershed moment for the district. If these funds were made available, we could really amp up visual and performing arts programs and create more equitable programs across the district.”

Visual and performing arts teachers throughout East County are thrilled their programs could receive funding if the millage is renewed. 

“It’s about time,” said Ricardo Robinson-Shinall, the theater and dance teacher at Braden River High School.

Robinson-Shinall said the district's arts programs have lacked recognition in the area.

“It’s so sad because we have some of the most talented students in the arts in this area and we have an area that’s so supportive of the arts."

Robinson-Shinall said constantly having to worry about fundraising can be draining and takes away from the focus of the programs.

“It’s exhausting because instead of worrying about creating art and creating memories with students, the focus for half the year is are we going to be able to do this, how are we going to be able to pay for this,” Robinson-Shinall said. “Taking that factor out of the equation and just allowing us to be able to create art and to be able to give kids those experiences would lift the weight of the world off me and the rest of the art teachers’ shoulders.”

Alice Gustek, a Freedom Elementary School student, shows off her finished paper mouse sculpture. File photo.

Bowman said schools will receive funding based on need rather than each school getting the same amount. For example, Bowman said some elementary schools in the district don’t have art or music teachers while others do. 

“Ideally, every secondary school would have a dedicated band, choir, orchestra, theater, dance and art teacher and every elementary school would have a music and art teacher,” Bowman said. 

Teachers said funding from the millage could ease the financial burden on families for students to be able to participate in the programs. 

For example, a student in the marching band at Braden River High School pays $650 in band fees and it costs $50 to $75 for a student to purchase a makeup kit to use in Lakewood Ranch High’s costume design and stage makeup class.

Easing financial burden on students could lead to more students participating in programs.

“It’s all falling into the hands of students and it’s not fair because then you’re doing things where people don’t participate because they essentially feel like they can’t afford to participate,” Caravan said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

With funding from the millage, teachers will be able to hire

Tiffany Rock, a Carlos E. Haile Middle School seventh grader, demonstrates how to play a few measures of the song "D String Boogie" for sixth graders. File photo.

others to assist with their programs. Cliff Dawson, the director of bands at Braden River High School, said although he knows how to play every instrument in the band, he’d love to hire specialists for certain instruments to elevate students’ education. 

Robinson-Shinall and Caravan hire choreographers, technicians and musicians to produce a musical each year. Funding from the millage could cover the costs rather than the schools having to fundraise.

Teachers also would like to use funding to take students on field trips that would provide new opportunities for students that could enrich their education. 

“Visual and performing arts is much more than singing and dancing,” Bowman said. “It’s about students finding their voice in our schools, finding their place where they feel at home where they can express themselves. Strong arts programs equals strong schools. The goal of the referendum for visual and performing arts is to create inclusive, diverse places for our students to feel at home and for our teachers to be supported so they can worry about teaching our students and loving on them instead of selling candy bars in a fundraiser.”

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