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Sunnyside School District will cut music and art teachers

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It has been a long, sometimes painful process.

Sunnyside Unified School District voters rejected a budget override last November.

The district governing board has been making decisions on where to cut $5 million out of the budget to deal with the deficit caused by the loss of the override.

This week the district took aim at art and music in elementary schools.

However, it's hoped students may not even notice, thanks to some creative thinking and a bit of juggling.

"Every school will continue to get the same degree of arts or music support that they've had previously because we're doing some redesign, redoing scheduling to ensure that students still have the same level and the same degree of art and fine arts programming that they've had in the past," says Dr. Jan Vesely, Sunnyside Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

Vesely says the district is creating new job descriptions and redesigning teaching models to integrate common core standards with music and art.

"We're really redesigning the whole program so it's very integrative in nature. It's an extension of learning based on the common core of math, the common core of English, language arts--so that the time here that they do have with the art and music specialists will really be in partnership with the core teachers," Vesely says.

However, the cuts can't happen without some pain to employees.

Vesely says elementary school art and music positions will be eliminated, going from the current 26 positions, down to 14.

She says the district will save $580,000 by doing that.

Vesely says all the reductions, including closing two schools and making deep cuts at district headquarters, will close the $5 million dollar deficit caused by the loss of the override money.  

"We were able to do additional central office cuts. So we have taken far more positions away from central office so we prevent the cuts from happening to the classrooms," Vesely says.

The district plans to turn one of the closed schools, Chaparral Middle School, into a fine arts school for kindergarten through eighth grade students and open it in 2015-16.

Voter-approved bond money is set to pay for the school's remodeling.

Vesely says the school will be staffed with many of the teachers who will be following their students from the closed schools to their new ones next fall.

The situation does leave art and music teachers, wondering about their futures, but still wanting the best for their students.

"I think you have those moments where you get a little discouraged, but as professionals, the first and foremost thing that we think about are the kids and how we can take care of them and educate them the best way we can," says Gallego Elementary School Art Teacher Julie Fouts.

Fouts says she hopes she can stay with Sunnyside, but there's no crystal ball to tell what the future holds.

Vesely says the district has not put physical education and sports on the chopping block because the district believes its health and wellness initiative is important to the health of students.

"All of our P. E. teachers have received extensive and significant training this year in terms of health and fitness and so we really feel like we have some great services and support that we really don't want to eliminate," Vesely says.

Vesely says it's too early to know how many layoffs there will be, but the hope is that attrition will help.

Some employees will be retiring or leaving the district, while other could be transferred to other positions in the district.

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