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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Is Funding for Performing Arts At WIS Sufficient?

2018-2019 High School Performance of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth

Is the Funding for WIS’ Performing Arts Sufficient?

According to New York Times reporter Perri Klass, “arts education helps develop [kids’] capacity for collaboration, for creativity, and even for asking questions.” These skills can help them in many other areas of study throughout their academic career. However, many schools in the US have insufficient funds for all of their programs, and tend to prioritize academics and athletics over arts. 

WIS provides its students with a variety of arts classes such as vocal music, symphonic orchestra, jazz band, theatre, and visual arts. Sufficient funding is implemented for the arts programs and needs of the teachers, however there were some recent claims about the performing arts’ budget and its funding. These changes may have a significant impact on the future of arts at WIS.

How does the budget process work?

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Each year, the departments present their budgets to the administration for the year ahead. Theatre and Vocal teachers Kerri Rambow and John Munt presented their best projections of the budget for the shows and classes for that coming year. They presented hypothetical ideas for the shows, not even knowing if they would get the rights to do those productions. According to Rambow, “we were asked to cut good chunks of money out of each of the budgets which was a little painful and can be nerve-racking.” 

Photo taken from WIS Website of Middle School 2018-2019 Performance of Anything Goes Jr.

Madeline Gondek, Yearbook and Vocal teacher, added on to how presenting the budget works. According to Gondek, in order to calculate each individual budget “we put all our things in our spreadsheet and then we just find the total number.” Expenses that go into the spreadsheet include “proposing a choreographer, lighting designer, [and] a fight coordinator if you need one.”

How is the budget divided?

The performing arts budget covers a variety of expenses. The instrumental department is able to purchase new instruments and make instrument repairs. The vocal department rents concert sheet music. The budget also allows the theater department to buy scripts and take their students to see shows.

According to Rambow, all performing arts classes, grades six through twelve, take from the same pool of money.  The sections have no designated amount, instead they divide up the budget based upon their needs. However, the needs of each department within the performing arts program varies in expenses. Rambow supports this system stating “it simply wouldn’t be fair if it was just divided equally. It needs to be divided based upon your needs” before adding that “the lion’s share [of the budget] goes to music.” 

Gondek agrees with the need based budget stating that “vocal music as a concept is cheaper” compared to the instrumental department where purchasing instruments and sheet music is more costly.

Shortcomings/Limitations of the Arts Budget

While Gondek and Rambow agree that Theatre and Vocal are generally very well funded, they both expressed some frustration with recent changes they’ve noticed in the budgets. Rambow states that often, the department doesn’t spend all of the money that they are given. She believes this is the reason that the school decided to give the department less money. However, the needs of each department can vary in cost from one year to another. 

Photo Taken from WIS Website of 2018-2019 Middle School Performance of Treasure Island

While there are years where not all the money is spent, there are other years, such as this one where Rambow worries they might not have a large enough budget. Also acknowledging this issue, Gondek describes how the performing arts budget needs to have some flexibility throughout the years for the productions in both Middle and Upper School. 

For example, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Mamma Mia! have particular needs, in terms of setting, sheet music and choreography that require different budgets. “Having been given cuts last year, there needs to be some more flexibility because shows are not always the same,” Gondek said. She adds that flexibility is key for the productions and if the department wanted to “do something huge. Like Les Mis[érables]. You have to account for more instrumentalists and that adds up.” 

Different perspectives on alleged funding changes 

Sarah Polland, high school principal, stated that she feels WIS funds their performing arts program very generously, which Rambow and Gondek both agree is true overall. Nonetheless, Gondek and Rambow claim that after presenting their budget projections, cuts were made to the student production budget in the spring for this coming year. However, Polland disagrees. During an interview, she claimed that the students’ production budget has actually increased by a substantial amount over the last two years. Polland states that she wasn’t at WIS while these “changes” were happening, but after looking over the budget spreadsheets from 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, she didn’t see any budget cuts. 

Photo Taken from WIS Website of the 2018-2019 High School Performance of The 25th Anual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Rambow also explains that she doesn’t track the budgets year to year. Rambow describes the previous budget as one large reserve of fundings stating “we used to have lump… here’s how much we have for student productions and we would all produce from that and then last year they started wanting us to do show by show.” However, she is very confident that “last year when we turned the budgets in, we were asked to cut the numbers fairly dramatically.” 

Future improvements to the arts program

In addition, both Gondek and Polland have some new ideas to improve the arts program in the future. When the idea of a potential fifth show was brought up, Gondek seemed intrigued. She suggested that to minimize cost, WIS could do a Cabaret style show. This means that students would perform various songs from many different musicals. Since only one or two songs would be selected from each show, she would only need to purchase the sheet music. This is much cheaper than buying the rights to a show and all the necessary materials. Gondek explained that doing this is completely legal, “as long as you’re just not trying to sell it as a show[, such as] The Lion King or Shrek.” 

Polland also talked about her plans for improving the arts programs beyond the productions. She introduced the idea of after school arts and theater classes for kids who don’t take art as an elective. 

Despite perceived budgets cuts last year and improvements to hopefully be made in the future, WIS’ arts programs are well funded. Out of all the teachers interviewed, all agreed that while they may have been frustrated in the past, overall they thought their funding was enough to accomplish their goals. 

Abigail Bown and Maia Nehme

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