By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“I don’t know if the class will start up again,” said teacher Jennifer Nielsen, who has sponsored an online petition to show support for the program.
“But I want the board and the administration to know that they can’t unilaterally cut fine arts, that people will stand up and say how important this program is for the kids.”
A drama class for academic credit was last taught in 2010.
It is one of several programs — music, art and athletics — that suffered after a financial downturn began the previous year.
Nielsen, who has taught drama at the school in the past, began the petition, viewable at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Petition, in December.
As of Saturday it had drawn 357 of a hoped-for 500 signatures.
“The state hasn’t supported education so we don’t know how we are going to fund a lot of these programs,” said Superintendent David Engle.
“And as we get additional funds, we need to discuss which ones should be reinstated and how that should be done.”
Continued funding cuts have weakened schools across the state, resulting in the McCleary decision, a 2012 ruling by the state Supreme Court that requires the state to implement reforms by 2018.
Engle said that an increase in state funding isn’t a sure thing, and the district can’t show favoritism for one curtailed program over another.
“The question is why drama needs to be put forward over everything else,” Engle said.
“If I have every teacher putting their own curricular interests over others like they are competing private contractors, it will lead us nowhere.”
The school now presents one play each year (cut from two in 2011), as an extracurricular program that offers no academic credit.
“Participating in drama gives kids a reason to come to school, and can be the only place they feel comfortable and accepted,” Nielsen said.
Added industrial arts teacher Jim Guthrie, “the more arts programs that kids participate in, in high school, the more accomplished they are when they grow up.”
Those participating feel involvement in plays enhances their lives.
“Even in a small community, many of us feel that we don’t belong anywhere,” said senior Emily Reid at the first audition for the spring play, “Wanda’s World.”
“This give us a place for us to express ourselves, where we think we belong, and we can carry this with us for the rest of our lives.”
Her view was echoed by freshman Jennifer DeLong.
“When I came to this school I felt I didn’t belong,” DeLong said.
“The people here have become my family and if that goes away I won’t be able to see these people anymore and that would literally break my heart.”
Drama isn’t just fun, DeLong said.
“It’s where we meet the people who understand what we are going through.
“If you take that away, we are nothing. We are just mindless robots,” she said, finishing in tears as other students applauded.
“I don’t think I could top that,” one student said.
Nielsen urged the board to reinstate drama at a Jan. 13 meeting.
She was accompanied by Don White, a Friends of the Arts of Port Townsend board member, who said his organization could contribute $8,000 in support of the class.
While Engle said he is grateful for any help and is using a direct fundraising campaign to support the school’s maritime initiative, he perceives flaws in this plan.
If the school were to take the funds, it would still need to match the amount, which represents the teacher’s pay for a single class, but the teacher’s schedule would need restructuring in order to accommodate the increased load.
“It’s not sustainable,” Engle said.
“We get the class started and when we don’t get the funds the next year, we need to shut it down again.”
He compared the situation to the support for middle school athletics from Team Port Townsend, which is in the second year of a promised two-year commitment.
“It’s the soft money that worries me,” he said.
“They committed to support athletic programs for two years.
“After that time, we need to either go back to them for more money or fund it ourselves.”
White said that the group can commit right now to funding for only one year.
But he doesn’t think that’s a problem.
“It would be better to have the class for one year than to not have it at all,” said White, a retired attorney.
“During that time we’d hope that the School Board would see the value of the class.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.