The theater and performing arts community calls on the school board to adjust the proposed budget to reflect equitable funding for theater programs.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, public commentators addressed performing arts funding, which many called insufficient, particularly when compared to funding for athletics.
The proposed budget includes an allocation of $6,953 for high school theater directors, which is up from the current year’s budgeted amount of $6,750. While that’s more than the stipends for head coaches of any college sport outside of football, who earn $7,828, community members pointed out that theater managers hold their positions throughout the year. school year, not just a sports season.
“The LCPS has never treated drama the same as athletics. Eight coaches is what basketball students get. One teacher is all drama students have,” a said mother Marsha Emch, “Just yesterday, 72 children came to the technical theater workshop. With a director. This director has to do everything.”
At Rock Ridge High School, the drama community formed a nonprofit drama booster club to fund its program.
“The after-school program receives $0 funding from Loudoun County Public Schools, except for a stipend for a theater director. This is a notable difference from Rock Ridge High School’s athletics program, which is fully funded by the LCPS,” the program’s website states.
Many speakers highlighted the proposed elimination of athletic fees, which generated $810,000 from the current year’s budget, and parking fees, which accounted for $650,000.
“So why is there a proposal to scrap the athlete fee but not the theater fee? Why does a director have to be the equivalent of eight coaches? Emch said.
Teacher Anthony Cimino-Johnson told council members that performing arts funding advocates were exhausted during last year’s budget cycle. He said the board received a comprehensive plan to align theater programs with athletics.
“The theater teachers are exhausted. We need help tonight… please hear us out, one of you is moving a motion and passing this document tonight,” Cimino-Johnson said.
Mother Tori Walden, who began volunteering with the Pilot Theater Program at Eagle Ridge Middle School several years ago, said the performing arts opened doors for her two daughters.
“The program has done wonders for them. They met new friends, they learned new skills and it gave them such confidence that sports don’t give them,” she said. “It crossed the boundaries of different school groups and brought students together in a way that I have never seen in other activities.”
She said one of her daughters now attends her college’s music program because of her experiences in LCPS performing arts programs and the hours the teachers put in.
Many speakers drew other parallels with athletics.
“Participation in clubs has been shown to promote good mental health, bonding, and social-emotional learning,” said one speaker. “But you need staff to run these clubs. And you can’t keep asking them to work hundreds of hours for free. Theater saves lives. It is our children’s sport.
Board member Denise Corbo called for increased funding for performing arts programs throughout the district.
“I fully understand the time and effort required outside of the teaching day for productions and strongly support increased stipends for our fine arts educators,” Corbo said.
Corbo said she had a vision of Loudoun establishing a Governor’s Academy for the Performing Arts, although the idea has not gained enough traction among board members.
“With Fairfax having TJ [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] for technology, Loudoun would be the perfect location to provide students with the highest level of fine arts education in Northern Virginia,” she said.
The next budget work session is scheduled for February 10.