Monday, March 02, 2009

People Will See Me And Cry

Last week's local alternative newspaper City Pages had a weepy piece on how Governor Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts were going to eviscerate a local arts school:

Since opening in 1989, the Perpich Center for Arts Education has made a habit of producing stars. It is a uniquely Minnesota success story and a national model.

But that won't save it from the wrath of Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget pen.

Alternative headline for the article: Pawlenty's Pen Is Pissed!

On the school's 20th anniversary, it faces a raft of cuts that would gut the school as we know it, eliminating its dorms, professional outreach, and even its ability to select the next class of stars in the making.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, $11 million dollars must be flayed from the school's budget over the next two fiscal years. The school would lose $2 million in 2010, but by July 2011, the Arts School would find itself repurposed as a charter, leaving the Center one dormitory program and $9 million lighter.

It's not quite over yet for the Center--the cuts are still just ink on paper, and a decision on whether to sign them into law isn't expected until May at the earliest. But, as time ticks down, the Center finds itself in need of a half-court buzzer beater, and you won't find it in the federal budget. When asked if there might be any relief for the school in President Obama's recent stimulus package, the Minnesota Department of Education replied, flatly, "No."

Despite the fact that the Center's success is documented not only by the star-power of its alums but by the national attention and funding it attracts in the form of grants and awards, the only line that now matters is that big one at the bottom. "During these economically challenging times," goes the Department of Education statement, "Governor Pawlenty is committed to transforming state government to become more cost-effective."

The story paints Pawlenty as an overly eager butcher ready to carve up an oh so precious resource. It sounds like it would take a miracle to save the school from the chop of his cleaver.

Or would it? The name of the school is Perpich Center for Arts Education. Hmmm....Didn't we just approve a constitutional amendment to raise taxes for the environment and the arts? Why yes we did. In fact, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is pretty clear about exactly how that newly taken booty is to be used:

19.75% to a newly created Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to be spent only for arts, arts education, and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage (approximately $48 million in FY 2010 and $54.5 million in FY 2011).

According to the CP piece, the school needs $11M for the next two fiscal years. It just so happens that the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund will be swimming in close to $103M in the next coupla years. While it's obviously vitally important for the future of our state to fund post-modern interpretive dance in Worthington, I think that maybe the unelected board of our artistic betters could find a way to cover the proposed budget cuts that the Perpich Center faces. After all, we are talking about the arts, education, and our children. Is there anything more important than that?

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