San Jose school district spends art grant on salaries, benefits
East Side Union High School District's Piedmont Hills High School is pictured in this file photo.

    One East San Jose school district is receiving millions in state funding for the arts, but nearly 72% of it will go to staff salaries and benefits.

    The East Side Union High School District expects to receive $13.2 million in state funds but will use $9.5 million of it for “operational costs” which includes paying for retirement benefits, health care benefits and salaries.

    Some of the remaining funding will support other classes such as physical education, culinary arts, english, science and math through 2026. The funds will also be used to help cover COVID-19 pandemic costs, including supplies such as masks. The district approved a preliminary funding plan at last week’s board meeting. The money comes from the Arts, Music, and Instructional Materials Block Grant, established by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June.

    Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teresa Marquez said the $9.5 million will help the district stay afloat after COVID-19 federal funding runs out. The district received $51.8 million in federal funding during the pandemic for staffing costs and distance learning supplies, like laptops, but that funding is set to end next school year.

    “School districts are encouraged to proportionately allocate the funds, but it’s not a requirement,” Marquez told San José Spotlight. “There’s a need for us in order to be fiscally solvent, to (make) reductions or find other sources of revenue.”

    Of the remaining $3.7 million, a little more than $1.5 million will go toward performing arts and visual arts classes.

    The East Side Union High School District approved a preliminary funding plan last week for the $13.2 million it is receiving from the state. Information courtesy of East Side Union High School District.

    Some teachers argue the grant should support arts programs, as intended.

    Independence High School theater teacher Robin Edwards said the grant should be an opportunity to target underserved subject areas. Among California’s public schools, about one in five have full-time arts or music programs. Proposition 28, which passed in November, aims to provide schools with a more stable, long-term source of arts funding.

    “If we take a look at the percentages, visual arts is going to get 5% of this budget, performing arts 6%, physical education 1.7%,” Edwards said.

    East Side Teachers Association president Jack Hamner said teachers sorely need these one-time funds, and the district needs to create a plan to regularly replace aging equipment.

    “(Physical education) teachers are using the same badminton rackets from 20 years ago that are falling apart… You’re talking about art teachers who don’t have enough of the supplies like ceramics,” Hamner told San José Spotlight. “Their (department) budgets over the last 10 years have been drastically reduced, and teachers end up spending thousands of dollars of their own money.”

    Santa Teresa High School teacher Laura Rice said any funding will help arts teachers who have long had to pay for their own classroom materials. Rice said she’s raised more than $40,000 to pay for supplies in her two decades as a teacher.

    “There has been an undue burden on teachers to spend their free time fundraising for school expenses, or worse, paying for school supplies out of their own pocket,” Rice said. “Certain subjects, especially the visual arts, have suffered the worst.”

    Marquez said arts funding remains a priority and Prop. 28 monies will allow the district to continue investing in the arts. The long-term impacts of enriching these classes could include better attendance, better academic performance and higher graduation rates, she said.

    “(Students will) actually have an opportunity to become artists, to become musicians, to become athletes, to become anything,” she said.

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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