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Arts hit hard in school proposal

Elementary art teacher Mark Cooper held a ground-down pencil aloft.

"Is this what our art program is going to look like?" he asked a group of 35 people gathered Thursday evening at Twin Bluff Middle School.

Under a Red Wing School District budget proposal, art and computer instruction would be significantly scaled back as the district prepares to carve out $560,500 in funding.

Cooper and other district art teachers at the meeting expressed frustration that -- as in prior years -- the district eyed their discipline for trimming.

"To me, it's a matter of fairness," Twin Bluff Middle School art specialist Matt Quinn said. "There's nothing fair about it."

He said that worst-case scenarios could have seventh-graders entering classes at a second-grade arts level.

Cuts at Twin Bluff would reduce instruction in computers and general music and compress eighth-grade sections to seven. Twin Bluff Principal Nancy Glasenapp said computer instruction would be integrated into other classes, while general music would be temporarily phased out.

Band and choir -- currently offered outside regular school hours -- would be reintegrated into class choices, she said.

Music, art, computer and physical education classes would be scaled back by $53,000 in the district's two elementary schools, according to initial provisions of the budget package. No teachers would be laid off, Supt. Stan Slessor said, though some jobs would not be filled in departments where teachers retired.

That struck a nerve with Red Wing High School art teacher Peg Hansen, who said retirement is on her horizon. But if her job is not filled after retirement, she wondered how much stock is placed in her role.

"That's a very weird pressure to have," Hansen said. "Then I guess it means I really wasn't doing anything important. I guess they didn't really care."

District officials say the cuts are being made in response to rising costs that outstrip dollars distributed through the state's funding formula.

Slessor, who outlined each provision of the proposal at the meeting, said he empathized with Hansen.

"None of us would be here if the money was rolling in, even at 3 percent," he said.

Red Wing School Board members are expected to vote on the budget cuts later this month.