D.C. parents fight cuts to Fillmore Arts Center


Nya Grant, a second-grader student at Stoddert Elementary, protests budget cuts to Fillmore Arts Center. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

A group of D.C. parents and community activists have mounted a protest against proposed budget cuts that they say will undermine a long-standing arts program that serves thousands of city kids.

The Fillmore Arts Center offers a wider-than-average range of arts classes for elementary-school kids, including in drama, chorus, dance, creative writing, ceramics and computer animation.

But a $300,000 cut to next year’s proposed budget has forced Principal Katherine Latterner to turn four of five full-time teaching positions into part-time, hourly jobs. Parents say those changes means experienced and beloved Fillmore teachers will leave, and the center will not be able to offer the same continuity and richness that has helped make it an arts cornerstone for kids.

More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition urging D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to restore $300,000 in funding, and Fillmore supporters were busy gathering more signatures Friday at the center’s annual spring show.

Vanessa Grant, a Stoddert Elementary parent, pronounced the cuts “crazy.”

“Look at this, this is beautiful,” said Grant, pointing toward a hallway filled with children showing off their artwork.

Fillmore operates on principles of cooperation: Participating schools pool their resources, turning over the money they receive for arts and music instruction. In return, their kids get to spend a half-day each week at one of two Fillmore campuses.

This year, the center is serving more than 3,000 students at 11 schools.

School system officials attributed next year’s budget cut to declining participation. The center is slated to serve eight schools next year and 500 fewer students.

But parents say that’s misleading. The problem is that schools that want to participate have less money to pool, they say, largely because of a new mandate that every elementary student receive 45 minutes of foreign-language instruction per week. Many schools are receiving no additional funds to meet that mandate, and principals must slice into their arts budget in order to hire language teachers.

Caitlin Oppenheimer, a PTA co-president at Stoddert, said parents aren’t on board with that trade-off.

“I don’t think anybody believes that 45 minutes of foreign language per week is going to enable any manner of proficiency. It just doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing,” Oppenheimer said.

Latterner, Fillmore’s principal, referred questions about the budget cuts to DCPS. But she said it is “very heartening” to see “how highly the parents and the students regard the program.”

The D.C. Council has shown no signs that it intends to boost Fillmore’s funding before approving the fiscal 2014 budget later this month.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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