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Art, music, and gym teachers get the ax in Lansing

Preschool-age boy practicing writing his name at a table in a Head Start classroom.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

Update 2:17 p.m.

“The Superintendent is receiving calls from arts groups all over the state saying, ‘Why are you cutting the arts?’” says district spokesman Bob Kolt. “But it’s just not true…we’re contracting out those services to community artists.”

Kolt says the district will bring in about 10-20 “contractors” to help elementary classroom teachers with art, music and gym instruction.

It’s not enough to replicate the 50  teachers who’ll be laid-off  in those areas. But it will give classroom teachers an extra hand from time to time, and even provide kids with more “hands-on” arts learning, says Kolt.

“We’re going to take some of these community arts programs and put them in schools, rather than have a lot of uncertified art, music, and P.E. teachers,” he says. 

Right now, only half the current art, music, and gym teachers are certified in those subjects, says Kolt.  

Some of those who are certified could be kept on as "contractors," he adds.

Kolt suggests other possible "contractors" could include artists from local studios, or even a couple drop-in lessons from the curator at the Broad Museum in East Lansing.  

He says he doesn't know how much money contractors will be paid. 

But whether a former art teacher-turned-art-contractor could make a living in their new job "is a good question." 

Kolt says the district superintendent wants the new program up and running before this year’s graduation. 

Friday, March 22, 5:28 p.m.

Lansing elementary students will soon say goodbye to all their art, music, and gym teachers.

They’re among 87 staff positions getting the ax this year.

The district’s got to scrape together $6 million in savings, and what with the right-to-work law taking effect next week, teachers around the state are eager to ink new contracts. (*Need a quickie reminder about why this new law is lighting a fire under the unions? We got you covered at the bottom of this page.)

Now the remaining teachers need to find a way to work all that art, music and gym curriculum into their regular classrooms.  

Teacher association president Patti Seidl says they’re already working to figure out how to team teach those subjects in each grade.

"Maybe I'm better at art, but you're better at music and you're better at P.E. So they're already thinking of ways to team teach these things collectively…. Absolutely, it will be harder. There's no getting around that. But our teachers are up to the challenge.”

Here’s an extra challenge: teachers also gave up their planning time in this round of negotiations. When it comes to lesson planning or grading, some middle school teachers are now down to just a 24-minute lunch break, says Seidl.

Plus, between paying more for health care premiums and salary concessions, Lansing teachers are now making what they did back in 2005.   

According to the Michigan Department of Education, about 108,000 kids in this state don’t get any arts education at school.

*So, the new law says you don’t have to pay union dues as a condition of your employment. Prior to right-to-work, you could only work in a "closed shop" if you were willing to contribute to the union. Under right-to-work, the union can’t make you pay those dues. Supporters say the policy attracts employers and creates jobs. Opponents say the law erodes wages and leads to poorer quality jobs.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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