The theater and performing arts community is calling on the School Board to adjust the proposed budget to reflect equitable funding for theater programs.
During Tuesday’s School Board meeting, public commenters addressed funding for performing arts, which many said is insufficient, particularly compared to the funding for athletics.
The proposed budget includes a $6,953 stipend for high school drama directors, which is up from the current year’s budgeted amount of $6,750. While that is more than the stipends for head coaches of any varsity sport aside from football, who make $7,828, community members pointed out that drama directors serve in their positions for the entire school year, not just one sports season.
“LCPS has never treated theater in the same equitable manner as athletics. Eight coaches, that is what basketball students get. One teacher is all theater students get,” mother Marsha Emch said. “Just yesterday 72 kids came to the technical theater workshop. With one director. This one director has to do it all.”
At Rock Ridge High School, the drama community formed a nonprofit drama booster club to fund its program.
“The after-school program receives $0 funding from Loudoun County Public Schools, aside from a stipend for a theatre director. This is of notable difference from the Athletics program at Rock Ridge High School which is entirely funded by LCPS,” the program’s website says.
Many speakers pointed to the proposed elimination of athletic fees, which generated $810,00 of the current year’s budget, and parking fees, which accounted for $650,000.
“So why is there a proposal to waive athletes fees but not theater fees? Why does one theater director have to be the equivalent of eight coaches?” Emch said.
Teacher Anthony Cimino-Johnson told board members that advocates for funding of performing arts were exhausted during last year’s budget cycle. He said that the board had been sent a comprehensive plan to bring theater programs in line with athletics.
“Theater teachers are exhausted. We need help tonight… please listen to us, one of you make a motion and pass that document tonight,” Cimino-Johnson said.
Mother Tori Walden, who began volunteering with the pilot drama program at Eagle Ridge Middle School several years ago, said performing arts have opened doors to her two daughters.
“The program did wonders for them. They met new friends, they gained new skills, and it gave them such confidence in a way that sports don’t give them,” she said. “It crossed boundaries of different groups in the school, and it brought students together in a way that I haven’t seen other activities do.”
She said that one of her daughters is participating in her college’s band program now because of her experiences in LCPS performing arts programs and the hours that teachers put in.
Many of the speakers drew other parallels to athletics.
“It’s shown that participation in clubs promotes strong mental health, bonding, and social emotional learning,” one speaker said. “But you need staff in order to run these clubs. And you can’t continue to ask them to work hundreds of hours for free. Theater saves lives. This is our children’s sport.”
At-large board member Denise Corbo has called for enhanced funding for performing arts programs across the district.
“I fully understand the time and effort needed outside of the instructional day for productions and highly support increasing stipends for our fine arts educators,” Corbo said.
Corbo said she has a vision of Loudoun establishing a Governor’s academy for performing arts, though the idea hasn’t gained enough traction among board members.
“With Fairfax having TJ [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] for technology, Loudoun would be the perfect location to provide students with the highest level of fine arts education to northern Virginia,” she said.
The next budget work session is scheduled for Feb. 10.