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Tax referendum allows voters to decide on arts education

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Katie McDonald used to sit in the art room at Glen Springs Elementary School and create.

The room was her sanctuary, and she took pride in her work there. She beamed when her teacher hung up her paintings, and even told her that she dreamed of becoming a ballerina one day and teaching art in her spare time.

Today, McDonald serves as the art teacher at Glen Springs, where she hopes to inspire students the same way. But Alachua County voters could redirect funding from programs like McDonald’s and keep her from sharing the arts in the classroom if they deny the renewal of an existing tax referendum.

The second question on the November 2012 ballot, the Alachua County Ad Valorem Tax Renewal, would continue the existing mill tax for four years to fund necessary operating expenses for school nurses, elementary music and art programs, K-12 school library programs, guidance programs, middle and high school bands and chorus programs, magnet programs and classroom technology.

With more emphasis being placed on math and science curricula and improving statewide standardized test scores since Gov. Rick Scott took office, the focus is turning away from art and music programs.

McDonald said the arts still play an important role in her students’ education.

“It’s hard to imagine people don’t think that art isn’t vital,” she said. “The arts are part of who we are as humans.”

Jackie Johnson, the spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools, defended the role of arts in the classroom and advocated the referendum’s renewal for the community benefit.

“You cannot have a successful community without high-quality schools,” Johnson said.

“Students who engage in arts actively do better academically. There are all sorts of academic concepts that art really reinforces in a way that engages students and keeps their attention.”

Representatives from the Alachua County Republican Party declined to comment on the referendum issue, instead directing attention to its official stance on the party website, which calls for more money to be directed to the classroom and teacher salaries in light of increasing administrative costs.

McDonald said she hopes voters will consider the enriching effects of art on her students before completing their ballots.

“Often times, the kids who struggle in other areas can be successful in the art room,” she said. “They may sit and struggle the rest of the day in math and reading, but it’s a place where they can come in and be proud of themselves.”

George Pappas edited this story online.

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a news editor at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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