After funding reprieve, Upper Darby school community unsure what’s next for arts programs

Tuesday night, the Upper Darby School Board will vote on a proposal to restore all music, art, and physical education teachers who were going to be cut in the upcoming school year.

Some parents and alumni are saying that’s not enough.


Due to budget cuts, the Upper Darby School district originally had proposed slashing its music and arts programs, laying off dozens of teachers. It also proposed a new curriculum — a realignment program — to teach music, art, and gym on a less structured schedule.

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But the final Pennsylvania budget included a last-minute increase in school funding, which gave Upper Darby an unexpected $2.7 million. So now, all the teachers who were to be laid off will not be.

School superintendent Louis DeVliege said in an online statement that new teacher collaborations will expand art, music, and physical education, but parents and teachers do not know how those collaborations are to operate.

“It’s our understanding that students in elementary school will no longer have set instructional time in art, music or gym,” said Upper Darby alumna Kate Nitz, who has been active during recent school board meetings. “So, although the faculty positions are restored, we would like to know as a community how the teachers will be utilized, and how the curriculum will be implemented into the realignment program, which is not going to change.”

The superintendent is required to reveal the new realignment program 28 days before the start of the school year.

The fate of arts education at Upper Darby School District drew the attention of celebrities, including comedian Tina Fey, an alumna. But plenty of other districts face similar trouble.

“It drew attention regionally and statewide and nationally because of the excellent reputation of its arts and music programs,” said Wythe Keever of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “However, a number of school districts, as a result of the school-funding crisis, have made cutbacks in art and music and health. All of them means of furloughing staff to make up for shortfall in state resources.”

It is still unclear how schools are dealing with teacher furloughs. Given the last-minute changes to the state budget, Keever says many schools are scrambling to figure out how to make the most of their funding.

This disclosure, PSEA funds WHYY’s coverage of the Capitol in Harrisburg.

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