Fayette student uses Facebook to generate support to preserve arts spending

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 3, 2014 

The Lafayette Band, "Pride of the Bluegrass," marched in the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day.

When Lafayette High senior band member Robert Craig heard that some music teaching positions could be cut in Fayette County, he started a Facebook page last week to spread the word and stop it.

Craig is among the students, parents and teachers who have expressed concerns about the district's plan to cut staff positions as part of a $20 million trim from Fayette County's 2014-15 budget.

Hundreds of those people saw Robert's page, SAVE FCPS ARTS, and liked it last week. It had more than 2,000 likes by the end of the week, and 2,358 likes by Monday evening.

"Being an arts students and how much it means to me in my life, it really struck a nerve, and I really felt like something should be done about it. It pretty much took off from there," said Craig, 18, who plays in Lafayette's band and sings in the chorus.

With 89 percent of the total budget devoted to staff salaries and benefits for the district's 5,815 employees, Shelton said it was inevitable that staff would be affected. He has not said how many positions will be cut.

The budget was $433 million in 2013-14. District officials will give the school board a tentative budget in May.

After a public outcry, Shelton announced that he would take more time to make decisions about staffing cuts. He set a public forum for 6 p.m. Thursday at Northeast Christian Church.

The Fayette County Education Association, a teacher group, also has requested a forum for staff members, which will be at 6 p.m. March 11 at Northeast Christian Church.

Although rumors continue to swirl that orchestra, band, music and other arts will take the deepest hits, Shelton said Monday that "we have no planned cuts in the arts," meaning no cuts to student services.

Shelton also has said that Fayette County would continue to have band and orchestra at every school, and might be able to have some savings in staffing that would not affect band and orchestra teachers with job rights.

Tracy Schultz McIntosh, whose daughter recently graduated from Fayette County Public Schools, posted comments on the SAVE FCPS ARTS page because, she said, she remains passionate about supporting Fayette County band and music programs.

"I think its a fantastic thing that people are standing up for the arts," she said.

In addition to Craig's effort on Facebook, other students have been voicing their concerns.

Jamie Smith, 15, a sophomore who plays in the Henry Clay High School band, said she wasn't aware of Craig's Facebook page, but she was concerned that staffing cuts "will lower the quality of our band programs" in Fayette County.

"I'm concerned that people will lose a lot of their favorite teachers," she said.

Andrew Brennen, a senior at Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, serves on the Prichard Committee Student Voice Initiative. He said that group would bring members to Thursday's forum. They have been framing the district budget battle more in the context of the statewide budget crisis. For example, Brennen said Kentucky had put no money toward textbooks and other learning materials since 2011.

Ben Childress, 18, a senior at Tates Creek High School, said he was among the students who planned to go to the public forum.

"Our hope is that there will be a big student turnout," he said.

Childress said students were especially concerned that teachers who don't have tenure will be vulnerable.

"Our untenured teachers, our younger teachers, are some of the most energetic, some of the most passionate," he said. "If we lose a lot of those people, that could just be an awful thing for our school."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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