Paterson NJ district wins arts award for programs facing budget cuts


Joe Malinconico, Paterson Press
Published 1:24 p.m. ET March 20, 2019

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Public School #24 in Paterson is one of the two schools that recently received a donation of new musical instruments by the VH1 Save The Music & Sound Start Foundations, videographed on 01/09/19.
North Jersey Record

PATERSON – Paterson Public Schools has been named a “Renaissance district” in honor of its student art offerings, but local education advocates say the distinction seems bittersweet because budget cuts are threatening the very programs that helped win the award.

The Arts Ed NJ nonprofit group said it picked Paterson school system as its inaugural recipient of the Renaissance award because of the dramatic gains the district made since 2010, when layoffs decimated art and music instruction in the city.

At that time, there were 21,000 students in all of New Jersey not getting art and music instruction, and 14,000 of them attended Paterson schools, said Bob Morrison, chief executive officer of  Arts Ed NJ.

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By this year, the Paterson district has revived its art and music programs to the point that every child was getting those courses again, officials said. “It’s a great story of the district’s commitment to its students,” Morrison said.

But Superintendent Eileen Shafer said during Tuesday night’s budget meeting that the district may be forced to lose art and music services that only recently were restored. Shafer said the district may end up with new musical instruments at its schools without anyone on staff to teach children how to play them.

“It’s really disappointing,” said school board president Oshin Castillo. “We were really excited about this award, but now where do we go from here?”

Rosie Grant, head of the Paterson Education Fund advocacy group, noted the irony that the district planned to hold a celebration on Wednesday of the arts award – including student performances – just a day after the school board approved a preliminary budget that would cut 120 teaching jobs. Grant said the proposed cuts would fall heavy on art and music teachers because many of them are among the district’s most recent hires.

“The arts always seem to be the first to go,” Grant said.

Among other organizations that planned to participate in the district’s celebration of its recent arts success were the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, officials said.

Morrison said the Paterson school board and district officials shouldn’t be blaming for the possible art and music cuts. “They have some very, very, very tough choices to make,” he said.

Morrison also noted that final decisions have not yet been made about the district’s budget and he expressed optimism that solutions could be found to keep programs intact.

“Their superintendent has a strong commitment to the arts,” he said.

Email: editor@patersonpress.com

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