"We've found that there's a bit of a disconnect," A+ Denver CEO Van Schoales said.
A+ Denver is a group of more than 100 community leaders from around the city. The organization began a study last April entitled "Arts Education in Denver Schools: Envisioning Excellence."
The study found that while there are pockets of individual schools with strong arts programs, overall, there is a need. The study found inconsistency of quality programs, few measures of quality, programs which are spread thin, inequality of access to strong programs, few pipelines for students studying the arts, an underutilized arts community, and budget challenges.
Schoales says A+ Denver released the report as a call to action to residents that something needs to change.
"It's sort of gone from rock bottom and we need to be here," Schoales said."What we wanted to do is begin the conversation of how do we get here?"
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg says the district has tried to bolster arts programs despite massive budget cuts over the years.
"Our schools do need more arts and we've added over the last decade more arts teachers, more music teachers, but it's not enough," Boasberg said. "I think we do want to see a real expansion of our arts."
Clay Porter wants to see that too. He is the visual arts teacher at Goldrick Elementary in southwest Denver. He says a lot of art teachers feel underfunded. When he wanted to start a new program, he paid for the equipment himself.
"I wanted ceramics here; I couldn't do it because it costs too much. So, I put a kiln in at my house this summer," Porter said. "I bought a kiln, paid for the electric. I had to have a new [electrical] box put in, just so I can have ceramics here."
The school district is trying to address the needs by asking voters to approve a $49 million mill levy override on the November ballot. The district wants voters to raise their own property taxes to generate extra money. Arts programs would receive an additional $11 million if passed.
The district is also asking for a $466 million bond issue for construction needs. If both measures are passed, property taxes on a $225,000 home in Denver would increase by about $140 for the year.
The A+ Denver study shows that in other states such as Minnesota, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, schools devote more money to arts education.
"We think that arts are just a vital part of education," Boasberg said. "That was true in ancient Greek times. That was true in the Renaissance. That's true today."
Schoales cautions that money is not the only solution. He says a real commitment to the arts is vital as well. He says a good arts program can strengthen good core programs for math, reading, and science.
"We feel strongly that these things can reinforce one another," Schoales said.
The A+ Denver Committee is seeking feedback from this report to find some sort of solution. If you want to weigh in, visit their web site at http://www.aplusdenver.org/.
Porter says if arts education does not improve, it can have real impacts on students and the art scene in Denver.
"If [students] are missing out, we might have missed the Mozart along the way because they didn't have the opportunity," Porter said.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)