Macon requests more funds for the arts
Last year, Macon County Schools requested a nearly $2 million budget increase to fund additional staff positions. When the pandemic shuttered school doors during budget season last year, the request was dropped. But now, over a year into the pandemic, MCS has again requested the money to fill staffing needs within its schools.
A large portion of the staffing issues across Macon County Schools lie in the arts departments. Macon Middle hasn’t had an art teacher for 10 years and hasn’t had a chorus teacher for four years. Union Academy, serving grades 7-12 has no music or art teachers. At the elementary schools, students receive 30 minutes of music and art weekly throughout the school year.
At the Macon County Schools Board of Education meeting April 26, Maggie Jennings presented the “Arts for MCS” plan to the board for the second time. The first was in January 2020. Jennings is a private music teacher in Macon County. She has a master’s in education and National Boards Certification. Jennings represents a grassroots group of over 1,000 Macon County taxpayers and local businesses who would like to see all students have equal access to quality, sequential arts education in Macon County. The group has been meeting with school administration since October 2019 and appealing to the county government.
The plan Jennings presented lays out a timeline for adding new arts educator positions, some that have previously existed in Macon County, over the course of three years. In the first year of the plan, the group has requested full-time chorus and arts teachers at Macon Middle School, a full-time music teacher to be shared among two or three schools to alleviate overcrowding and allow for after-school music opportunities and a part-time arts director for the county to work on administration, staff support, grant writing and community partnerships.
In year two, the group would like to see a full-time art teacher at each elementary school, full-time music teacher at each school and the arts director raised to full-time. Year three involves beginning construction on a new fine arts facility. According to Jennings, Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin helped the group in writing the three-year plan, aligning it with long-term district goals.
According to research compiled by the “Arts for MCS” group, there are numerous benefits to arts education in public schools. Arts classes are a productive and creative outlet for students; learning to hear the beat and actively participate in a collective music class has been shown to help children assimilate, focus and retain content; rhymes in children’s songs reinforce phoneme awareness needed for spelling and reading.
According to the group’s research there are tremendous mental health benefits to arts education such as aligning social and emotional connections in the brain, reactivating parts of the brain that have been misused, teaching emotional stability and creating a coping method, enhancing self-worth and self-esteem and bringing a sense of joy and release.
“When you look at the research, for the last 20 years consistently, it says that music aptitude is set by age 9,” said Jennings. “So what that means is, young children are geared toward listening for things like our speech, language development and of course music. It all is the same part of the brain. So as you develop good literacy habits, music is kind of like reinforcement that tells the brain just how it’s supposed to be wired and how it’s supposed to work.”
The original draft budget, presented to the board of education April 26, requested $8.2 million from the county and did not include the additional $1.9 million, first requested last year, needed to cover various new positions. After lengthy discussion the board passed a motion to approve an amendment to the budget for an additional $1.9 million. COVID relief funds, given to the school systems across the country, will not be used for staff positions since they will not be recurring in the future.
New arts positions covered by the budget increase include four full-time art teachers to cover K-12, four full-time music positions to cover K-12, a music and art teacher for Macon Middle School and an art/ music teacher at Union Academy. Other new positions covered by the budget increase include 10 additional mental health professionals to cover k-12, five additional full-time school nurses to cover K-12, foreign language teacher for Highlands School, English teacher for Franklin High School and a STEM teacher and EC teacher’s assistant for Iotla Valley Elementary. The $1.9 million also covers a $50,000 maintenance contract for Macon Middle School.
The board also voted unanimously to approve hazard pay for all pay for all employees. Full-time employees will receive $750 and part-time employees will receive $375.
Along with the draft budget to be approved by Macon County Commissioners, the board voted to submit a request in the form of a resolution to County Manager Derek Roland and Macon County Board of County Commissioners asking for consideration of a new high school facility located at the current site. The Macon County Commission will consider both at its May 11 meeting.