TAMPA — Art, music and physical education teachers are doled out carefully among Hillsborough's elementary campuses. Each school gets its fair share.
But at some schools, the principals can buy extra help.
This little-discussed system mostly benefits high-poverty schools, which can use federal funds to buy extra days with an electives instructor. Their students don't necessarily get more music classes. The principal decides how to use the teacher, who may tutor in academic subjects or help free classroom instructors to plan.
Lee Elementary, a technology and world studies magnet school, purchases an art teacher for two extra days. Principal Mamie Buzzetti deploys the instructor to tutor students, fusing fine and language arts.
"Not only do they talk about the arts and talk about the artists, but they can draw," she said.
Elementary electives teachers are assigned through an elaborate formula based on the fall student enrollment. The general objective: Every child should get two days a week with a music instructor, two days with the physical education teacher and one day in art class.
Since students don't show up in perfectly contained groupings, class scheduling is notoriously complicated. Any school, large or small, could end up with an extra class here or there.
Teaching where it's needed
With budgets tight, school officials are vigilant about not letting electives instructors spend an extra day at a campus just because it's convenient.
But a school can purchase more time with an instructor of art, music, physical education or computers — the subjects known as "specials" in Hillsborough schools. The cost can be prohibitive. Of about 30 campuses that bought additional time this school year, all but two qualify for enhanced federal funding because they have high concentrations of students living near poverty.
Deputy superintendent Ken Otero acknowledged the potential for concerns about fairness, since lower-income schools receive extra money and some higher-income schools could generate it on their own.
"The middle-of-the-road school would be disadvantaged," he said. But the district monitors practices closely. With so few of the more affluent schools actually buying extra time, "it's really not an issue right now," Otero said.
Bryant Elementary is one of the exceptions. The northwest Hillsborough school purchases one extra day with an art teacher and one extra day of a physical education teacher's time.
Principal Karen Bass works hard to pay for that share of both salaries. She raises the money without help from the PTA, working with business partners and taking in rental fees from a church that uses space at the school.
She considers the effort worthwhile. She gets a physical education class once a week for Bryant's kindergarten students, who otherwise wouldn't receive instruction by a fitness specialist.
The art teacher, who happens to be technologically savvy, shares his talents with others. He helps teachers set up Web sites. Bryant students are learning to blog.
"It's all extras. Without it, your program is still a wonderful program and isn't suffering," said Bass, who said her ability to continue offering the "extras'' depends on fundraising.
The financial picture is different at high-poverty schools that receive federal funding through the Title I program. About half of Hillsborough's schools qualify, because they enroll large concentrations of children living near poverty. They can get an extra $300 to $555 per qualifying student.
Principals can spend the money on everything from instructional materials to reading and math resource teachers. They also can purchase more teacher time in the arts and physical education to support the core academic subjects.
"It's not just going outside and playing. It's not just drawing pictures," said Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough's director of federal programs. "That extra time they get with the art teacher may be the one thing that motivates them to do better in reading, or in applying that skill to the classroom."
Twin Lakes Elementary, a high-poverty school in north Tampa, took advantage by buying three extra days of a music instructor's time this year. Students still got music twice a week, the standard around the county.
Principal Didi Lefler said one of the school's music instructors could focus on the primary grades, while the other worked with older students. At times, they could co-teach, freeing up time for traditional classroom instructors to get together and plan.
"It's not just music when you go in there," she said. "It's an extension of what goes on in the classroom."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.