I read with dismay that District 97 is considering cutting loose the BRAVO and CAST performing arts programs at Brooks and Julian middle schools. I recognize that budgets are tight. Still, I wonder if administrators have looked at cutting other programs — say, sports? Let’s compare. The number of students in any given production likely rivals the number of students participating in the larger sports programs. Coaches are paid, just like the administrators of the performing arts programs.
D97 spokesman Chris Jasculca criticized the performing arts programs by saying, “We also provide access to facilities, cover the cost of custodial services during non-school hours, [and] cover the cost of supplies.” Every sports team incurs these costs — plus the costs of buses for games and meets.
D97 administrators also criticized the performing arts programs because they aren’t part of the academic curriculum. Neither are sports. However, many students from CAST and BRAVO continue their theater involvement at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and I would guess that a dozen or so students every year are accepted into nationally prominent college programs and pursue theater as a career. That certainly seems academically related to me.
I wonder how many of our middle-school athletes go on to compete in college? BRAVO is nationally recognized for the caliber of its program and CAST is also celebrated. Nearly all of their shows sell out. They perform for students from all of our elementary schools. They perform at the Oak Park Arms and other community venues. They march in Chicago’s holiday parade.
Families move to Oak Park so that their children can participate in these programs. How many of our middle-school sports teams can claim that?
Let me be clear: I do not want to cut sports. I believe that sports — and performing arts programs — are worth every penny as a means for teens to gain self-esteem and confidence, learn teamwork, explore their abilities, and find a sense of identity and belonging. I’m simply frustrated that, when cuts are discussed, the arts quickly end up on the chopping block, while sports remain sacrosanct. I expect more from a community as well-educated and well-informed as Oak Park.
Lastly, many Oak Parkers cast their votes to approve the most recent D97 tax levy with the expressed goal of preserving BRAVO and CAST. For D97 to jettison these programs now is the worst kind of bait and switch. It would not surprise me if there were lawsuits. And how discouraging that would be, to pour our tax dollars into legal fees instead of these two magnificent programs.
Rethink your strategies, D97.