Reader view: Can we say we’re a Creative District if we refuse to fund the arts?

Can we claim to be a Creative District if we refuse to fund the arts?

This is a question I have been asking a lot lately. When learning about the massive budget shortfalls in our school district, which has led to cutting integral roles in our school’s music and arts departments, I keep asking how this could happen. We have some of the best teachers in the state in areas of music, theater, and arts, and now we are letting them go. How could this be? How is it possible that Edmonds — a designated Creative District in the state of Washington — is part of a school district that is drastically cutting classes in music, fine arts and theater arts but not other areas?

I have been digging in and finding out as much as I can about this complex issue we are facing as a community. I want to share my thoughts, as someone who is not being forced to stay silent in fear of losing a job or tarnishing their reputation in their field. (I have been surprised how many individuals are not allowed to speak up for themselves in this conversation, individuals who would be vital to keeping music and arts in our schools.)

1. This is a choice – Yes, this is a choice that our school district has made. There are significant budget challenges facing schools across our entire state, but the Edmonds School District has specifically chosen to cut our budget in these areas. When trying to understand why not all school districts are facing such drastic cuts to the music and arts programs I asked this question. The answer is incredibly disappointing, not only is it the school district making this choice, but it is the elected officials on our school board that are making this decision. It has been communicated that the individual principals of each school are able to make the final decision, but this is just a way to not take accountability and to navigate a political landscape. The power lies in our school board and these are elected individuals. This means that we can change this in the future. Your vote makes a difference, elect individuals who will advocate for the arts, tell our elected officials that you want them to save the arts. I wish that the amazing protests and activations that our students have done at the school district offices would have impacted their decisions but that has not been enough; we as voters need to show up and let the votes make the impact.

2. Won’t we just have to raise more money next year? – Yes, and no. Right now, there is talk about an approximate $1.5 million shortfall. The Foundation for Edmonds School District was not allowed to fundraise for this matter until a very short time ago (no sources cited, I will take ownership of making this statement as my opinion), given mere months to raise $1.5 million with a deadline of May 31st. The foundation has done an incredible job of investigating every area they possibly can, major donors, major corporations, grants, etc. They were given too little time and are not being given any support in matching funds from the school district. The foundation has been setup to fail in this situation. With the deadline being today of the initial raise we are in a place that what has been committed to for the upcoming school year is based on what the final number is right now (yes, you can still donate today and make a difference, and you can donate through the rest of the summer and make a difference). At this moment (May 31, 10 a.m.) there is around $200,000 raised, which will go to saving as many programs and teachers as possible. This is a far cry from the $1.5 million, but we don’t need to cover all of that. The foundation is working on finding ways to match what is raised by putting in a request to take a loan from the endowment (that as it grows will create sustainable funding in the future) and are pushing hard to get one more match from a larger organization. (I do not have details; again, this is what I am gathering from conversations and personal investigations.) There is a chance we will still need to fundraise a smaller amount next year but the endowment is being built to reduce the need to ask the community in the future.

3. I thought it was too late and unattainable – Yes, I have had this thought too. We will most likely not reach the $1.5 million today and yes, it is too late to save all of the programming as notices have been sent out to teachers and some of those have already secured other roles for next year. 5th grade band will be gone next year (this accounts for almost half of the $1.5 million deficit), many other programs are also cut with no hope of being saved in time. But many programs can and will be saved by what the community and foundation have done. If we can raise another $200,000-$300,000 before the school year begins (this is not due today, we have time) we can work on covering the gap, adding back to the endowment (assuming the foundation is able to take a “bridge loan” out) and setting our schools up to be able to recover from these cuts and start the process to rebuild what we have lost.

4. What can I do? – This is what often keeps us stuck. What can I as an individual do? What action can I take that is within my power and resources when I am just trying to keep myself afloat in the current macroeconomic climate or with everything else I need to take care of? I want to offer some very accessible ways to take action:

 Vote – Votes at the state and local level matters, vote for representatives that are prioritizing education for our community.

Donate – Yes, all donations matter. Your $5 donation or your $5,000 donation are both important and will go toward long-term funding. If 15,000 of our approximately 72,000 households in the district donated $100 we would cover the entire $1.5 million. Donate now!

Support – There are individuals in the community coming together to find ways to fundraise to support the bridge loan to keep music programs in the school next year. Support these efforts! Many will be announced soon but I will give some sneak peeks: Brigid’s Bottleshop is hosting a Save the Music event on June 20 from 5-9 p.m. Salish Sea Brewing is working on a special beer for Ales for the Arts and supporting local events to fundraise (more details to come). In addition, a group of business owners and supporters are working on a benefit event in July at the ECA (details pending), and many other individuals are brainstorming ways to fundraise. If you have ideas, add them in the comments!

— By Rachel Gardner

Rachel Gardner is an Edmonds School District parent, musician, music scene writer, community volunteer and supporter of music and arts.


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