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Art teachers fight to draw more support for program

To Tim Ganey, whose Illinois elementary school devoted time every Friday to art class, art "is the most important thing you can learn. It gets down to your soul." That's why Ganey, 39, teaches his 7-year-old daughter sculpting, woodworking and photography at home. It's also why he was disappointed to see simple cut-and-glued pictures at a recent parent's night at Seminole Elementary School.

In Hillsborough County public elementary schools, though, cut-and-glued pictures are a sign of progress. Until last year, only 15 percent of the county's elementary-school pupils studied art at all. They participated in a special program that brings visiting artists into some classrooms.

This year, 72 of Hillsborough's 95 public elementary schools have full- and part-time art teachers. But plenty of room remains for improvement, the teachers say.

Most of the 59 teachers lug supplies in grocery carts. Some shuttle between two schools. Many teach half-hour classes while the regular teacher takes a break to plan lessons.

"They put them in place and didn't give them very much support," said Marilyn Mars, education curator of the Tampa Museum of Art. "We've made some progress, but we feel to get a quality art education, you need supplies. A lot of the teachers feel they are in untenable situations."

Art teachers don't have a set budget for supplies, so they must seek money from other school programs.

"It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said School Board member Yvonne McKitrick.

The district sets aside an annual $1.75 per student for regular classroom teachers' art supplies, said Pete Davidsen, the county's assistant superintendent for administration and operations. He said many now devote that money to the art teacher's use.

Schools also receive $25 a year per student for supplies other than textbooks, which can include office papers, pencils, copy machine paper, and classroom supplies. Art teachers can appeal for some of that money, Davidsen said.

Through the state Quality Instruction Incentive Program (QIIP), 51 Hillsborough schools, including 37 elementary schools, were awarded an extra $21.10 per student this year. Up to 50 percent of that money, given to schools meeting certain goals and achieving high test scores, can be used for art.

How that money is divided depends on each school. "It takes an art teacher who sells her program," McKitrick said.

To fill in the gaps, art teachers rely on donations from the PTA, other teachers and even students. Many depend on a local non-profit clearinghouse for cut-rate art supplies.

Mango Elementary School art teacher Linda Warren pins requests for supplies on the faculty bulletin board. She said the PTA helps. Other teachers donate from their budgets and buy books, ribbon, sequins and other odd objects at garage sales.

"I haven't had a problem. . . . (But) I'm in the minority, I know," Warren said. She is one of the few teachers with her own classroom.

Mars would like to see art education mandated by the state for all elementary-school pupils.

"When you have a chance to be creative and fulfill an artistic need to create, it helps in other ways," she said. "It helps you in math; it helps in perception. An art teacher can really open up a world to children."

For 6-year-old Kendrick Schultz, a first-grader at Limona Elementary School, art is just fun.

"You get to draw, you get to cut, you get to glue," he said. "You don't have to do any math."

To his father, Johnny Schultz, 27, who didn't study art when he was a child, art is a frill.

"Actually, it seems to me something to entertain them when they're not trying to pound them with information," Schultz said. "I don't know that it's important."

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