Community Members Call for More Performing Arts Funding

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.

13 thoughts on “Community Members Call for More Performing Arts Funding

  • 2022-01-26 at 3:57 pm

    I can’t find basic food items like Milk or Chicken at the grocery store.
    Inflation is at forty years highs.
    The BoS is committed to mercilessly raising taxes on everyone.

    But yes, by all means, let’s find new and creative ways to spend money.

    Didn’t I read that LCPS standardized test scores are in the dumpster? Shouldn’t the focus be on educating children?

    Happy We Really Need School Vouchers Day, Loudoun!

    • 2022-01-27 at 10:01 am

      I’m not sure where ya all are shopping, but Costco and Wegmans have had multiple types of milk and multiple types of chicken every single time I’ve been there. Moreover, I’m not sure what the school system, or their spending, has to do with being able to find groceries at the store??? There are supply chain disruptions from people getting COVID or quitting/not accepting low paying jobs. Wait, are you arguing that we shouldn’t educate kids so that they don’t have any choice but to accept low paying jobs????

      As to focusing on educating children, many would argue that the arts are a large part of educating children. Almost 5,000,000 people are employed in the arts in the US, representing more than 4% of the entire county’s GDP- I would point out that is many times more than are employed in sports. The money and support these parents are asking for is literally so small that it doesn’t even register in a 1.5 Billion dollar budget. Honestly, you could argue that putting more money into theater, band and other arts programs is one of the more efficient ways to spend public money, because those activities have such high parent and community support and volunteerism. It’s a high return on the amount invested.

      • 2022-01-27 at 11:26 am

        The word of the day is “priorities.”

        The LCPS budget needs a significant cut. There is a common sense vacuum at “Education” Court.

        Enrollment (demand) is down, the budget (costs) is way up and the quality of the product (education) has declined. That’s a failing organization. The people in charge must go.
        It’s time to focus on the basics.

        • 2022-01-30 at 1:13 pm

          I always find it interesting how people like you always think their opinions and viewpoints are “correct” and represent the will of the masses. I don’t doubt that what’s right for you is spending less on education, but I just don’t see anything that leads me to think that represents the will of anything resembling a majority of the population. It’s certainly not my opinion- and your opinion carries no more weight than mine. It’s not the opinion of really anyone I know, it doesn’t seem to be reflected in the way the County has voted recently or in the referendums for capital construction funding that have been approved. I respect your opinion that the school budget should be cut, just as you should respect my opinion, and it seems the opinion of a large majority of the County population, that the budget shouldn’t be cut.

          With that said, armchair quarterbacking is always easy because you don’t have to deal with reality, details, practicality. So for the sake of argument, let’s say you got your way and they cut the school budget by what???? 20%??? 30%??? Tell me how you would cut the budget by $300,000,000 to $450,000,000. I assume you would immediately raise all classroom sizes to the maximum’s permitted by the state. I assume that you would also cut teacher pay significantly (keep in mind that there is a worsening teacher shortage). Those two things would close the gap some, but not all the way. So what else would you get rid of? Sports? Arts? all extracurriculars? Close the brand new magnet high school? Take kindergarten back to half day? Please, share your wisdom with us and explain what a properly funded school system would look like.

          • 2022-01-31 at 9:09 am

            You actually know nothing about me, so kindly don’t make generalizations about “people like (me).”

            Show me the proposed detailed line item budget. Give me a couple of years of actual financial results. Give me the real statistics, trended. Give me comps for other school districts, not named Fairfax or Arlington. Give me the authority to slash overhead.
            And a big red Sharpie.

            Of course the labor portion of the equation is pretty-much screwed, since the loons on the SB invited the cancerous union in, but I’m certain that can be solved, as well.

            Priorities. It’s shouldn’t be a negative or divisive word. Nor should Efficiencies.

            Spending money like a drunken sailor is not how government entities should be run. And that’s exactly how LCPS is operating.

        • 2022-01-30 at 3:02 pm

          I couldn’t agree more with you! The Arts need to be more of a priority. 45% of our students in Loudoun are involved in the arts. For ever $1 you invest in the arts, there is $9 return on investment. By-in-large, data demonstrates the arts improve reading scores, SAT scores, and provide soft skills like creativity, innovation, and collaboration, which are what our biggest employers in the company are looking for! Regardless of whether or not you believe LCPS is failing as an organization, it doesn’t rule out the fact that we can do more to support the arts in our communities. Its an incredible investment for our students, our future.

  • 2022-01-26 at 4:02 pm

    Why is it every time a School Board member opens his/her mouth, an additional funding request falls out?

  • 2022-01-26 at 5:54 pm

    I hope this is an issue everyone can unite around, regardless of political affiliation. There simply needs to be more equity in the funding of performing & fine arts. The advocates who spoke out last night were quite impressive. I couldn’t agree more. A special shout-out to Mr. Cimino-Johnson, who’s been very eloquent on this issue.

  • 2022-01-27 at 12:44 am

    If I read that right 8 basketball coaches split the stipend which is less than the arts program, yet 1 arts direct keeps the entire stipend. I agree there needs to be more equity.

    BTW – I believe the head coach manages the stipend and many coaches are volunteers. I was a volunteer hs hockey coach and our program got $0.00 funding and $0.00 stipend. Seems fair to me.

    • 2022-01-30 at 3:00 pm

      Unfortunately, you read that incorrectly. There are individual stipends for individual coaches. For football, there are 8 coaches amount to $40,000+ stipends per school. Each sport has a coach, and at minimum assistance coach for 20 – 50 athletes. Yet our theatre programs only have 1 stipend for the entire year, for about 300 – 400 students. Safe? No. Equitable? No. Additionally, athletics receives money for transportation, uniforms, referees, equipment etc . . . Theatre does not even receive enough money to cover the cost of royalties, let a lone all of the other consumables. Additionally, data reflects that for every $1 you spend in the arts, there is a $9 return on investment.

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