#WeAllDeserveArts: Julia DiBussolo – Executive Director, Arts Every Day

September 15, 2021 – National Arts in Education Week 2021

The Baltimore City Public School System is a district of 155 schools and programs serving 77,856 students. Operating with a decentralized power structure, principals have autonomy over school budgets, scheduling, and staffing. Last Spring, Arts Every Day reviewed the district’s draft budget and found 35 schools showed significant budget loss due to declining enrollment. As we all know, when budgets are cut, the arts are the first to suffer. 

Several Baltimore City teachers submitted ‘Access Report Forms’ to AEMS saying their positions were being eliminated due to budget cuts. The AEMS Access Report Form is an anonymous submission form for teachers, parents, students and community members to submit arts education access concerns. Upon further review and outreach, we found that 13 schools were in danger of losing entire fine arts programs and teachers. This included our close partner and friend, Dr. Sherrie Norwitz, the Orchestra teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle School. The loss of Sherrie’s position at the school would have meant the loss of the entire orchestra program – AND the loss of one of the last remaining Strings programs in the district. With the help of a parent leader, the school principal, Young Audiences of Maryland, Parent Community Advisory Board, and families at Thomas Jefferson Elementary Middle School, a letter writing campaign was quickly organized to save their Strings program. 

With support from AEMS and our involvement with the Statewide effort to pass the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, we knew the legislation included new funding and a clause holding districts harmless for enrollment loss due to the pandemic. So how and why were schools in danger of losing Fine Arts teachers because of declining enrollment? AED decided to quickly mobilize testimony for the district’s public budget forum. We submitted a series of very specific funding questions and concerns in writing to the Board of School Commissioners. We closely coordinated our efforts with the internal efforts of the district Fine Arts Office, the Parent Community Advisory Board, and several State-level advocacy organizations with expertise in the Blueprint legislation. 

Within a week, the district announced a 1-time fix to the immediate Fine Arts teacher loss issue. Thanks to our coordinated advocacy efforts and the fast response of the BCPSS administration, all 13 schools were able to maintain their Fine Arts teachers using Blueprint Concentration of Poverty funds. Additionally, our superintendent acknowledged (on record) the need for a long-term solution to sustain fine arts access even when school enrollment fluctuates. This was a definitive win for the arts and a clear need for better policies. 

Have you experienced budget cuts at your school or in your district? Are you worried about how the pandemic might impact programs this year? Here are some tips for the 2021-22 school year.

#WeAllDeserveArts

Julia Di Bussolo is a community artist, advocate, and arts administrator working to improve equity and access to the arts in Baltimore City Public Schools. As executive director of Arts Every Day and as a Baltimore City parent, Julia is a leading voice of arts education advocacy within the City. Prior to joining the Arts Every Day team Julia served as a the director of the East Baltimore-based after school program, The Club at Collington Square. Julia holds a Masters of Arts in Community Arts and Bachelors of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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