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Q&A: Peoria Public Schools art and music teachers say they need better funding, consistent staffing

Peoria Public Schools art teacher Marie Lindahl and music teacher Heather Maughan.
Camryn Cutinello
Peoria Public Schools art teacher Marie Lindahl and music teacher Heather Maughan.

Peoria Public Schools art and music teachers say they need more funding and better staffing to grow the district's arts program, and give students a well-rounded arts education.

Heather Maughan is the music teacher at Whittier Primary School and head of the Peoria Federation of Teacher's arts committee. She said some schools in the district don't have a full-time art teachers.

This means some teachers have to split time between multiple schools.

WCBU reporter Camryn Cutinello spoke with Maughan and Marie Lindahl, an art teacher at Northmoor Primary School, about the challenges teachers are facing.

Lindahl said her budget doesn't cover the cost of supplies need for the entire school year.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your budget for this year?

Marie Lindahl: The budget that I received was $374. I have to split [the school's fine arts budget] with the music teacher. So the materials that the students get is very limited.

Heather Maughan: So my school, we receive around $600. That's combined. So we have the supply money, and we have the repair money, the repairs, it's fluid, we can transfer money from our repair account into our supply account. But it's still not a whole lot when it's two separate programs. So the $600 is split between myself and the visual art teacher.

What can you buy with that kind of budget?

Lindahl: Not a whole lot. We have to order through different vendors that are approved by the district. So there isn't a way to reimburse. If you were to go out and purchase on your own, you have to follow through with this is your list and then you turn it into your secretary and the secretary helps to get that order placed.

In a year, what kind of stuff are you purchasing with your budget? What does the budget cover for general music ed?

Maughan: For general music, we have a lot of non-consumable items. So we kind of save up for bigger purchases if we're talking orff instruments or classroom rugs or hand percussion, those break pretty easily. I mean, we have kids using them daily and a lot of kids using them. So ours are really, you know, concrete, tangible items that we're purchasing.

Where are you getting stuff from?

Lindahl: For art, we use a lot of either Amazon or Blick Art Materials. I referenced Blick Art in my rebuttal to our district. One of the things [superintendet Sharon Kherat] had commented was to talk to our principals about finding extra funds. And I mentioned that when I go up to Blick Outlet, which is just in Galesburg, so it's not that far away. They have an outlet, which is kind of a convenient thing, especially from where we live, you can pick up a gallon of paint for $5, where normally it's $27. So if they would give us that option, there are ways that we could save and get a lot more materials, but art needs consumables, I mean, we use it up. So you have to have a lot of materials.

That was actually gonna be one of my questions. Are you talking to your principals?

Maughan: In my building, we do speak with our principal quite a lot about our needs. And she really is very flexible in helping us. The problem is that the funding for each building is categorized into what it can be used on. And outside of that fine arts budget, there's not a whole lot that you can classify, that would be supplies that we would need in our classrooms.

How do the budgets compare? Are they the same, any increases or decreases?

Maughan: So it's done on a per pupil basis, there's a certain allotted amount for each student for fine arts. The problem is, is that it's one amount for fine arts overall. It's not for a certain amount for each fine art program. It's only one baseline cost per student, and then however many fine arts programs you happen to have in your building. That's how many ways it's split.

And you mentioned in your speech to the board that you've spent your own money before on supplies. With this funding, what is the impact on teachers?

Lindahl: I think it's pretty huge. I mean, I want to make sure that they have every medium possible. I mean, they need to explore everything. And there's so much of the social emotional portion of it, that they're getting a chance to reach out and feel different things and manipulate different things and their feelings, and talk through everything. So it's just, it's such a big component.

Maughan: Teachers are stressed, they're very stressed. And we're worried about our students. Because we know that our programs could be so much more than they are. And we've been asking for help from the district for so long. And this is the most community support that we've gotten these past few months. And we're really grateful for it. Because it's not a building or a principal issue. You know, if our principals had more money to give us they, they'd give it to us. It's the fact that it's just not there from the district.

When you mentioned community support, can you talk about what you're hearing from the community at large right now?

Maughan: We have a parents group in District 150 that partners with the teachers' union, they've put out a fine arts petition that's been going around that people can sign if they show support for the plan that they've laid out for the fine arts, which they partnered with the union so we're on board with what they're advocating for.

Can you elaborate a little bit more on what that plan is?

Maughan: We want to see programs actually done with fidelity and scheduled correctly with the appropriate amount of time. And the appropriate amount of student choice allowed, especially at the older levels, so we can get that buy in from the kids. And so our teachers can actually teach their specialties in their content areas. That's what we're hoping for.

Can you elaborate just a little more on what the art committees been kind of doing as of late?

Maughan: The fine arts committee, we have been working closely with the parents, and we've been working closely with the teachers. Right now, as is, where we were bargaining and working with the district, we've kind of hit a stalemate. We are still asking for what we need. But we're really not getting an open reception of them, hearing us and working with us to move towards that goal. And so that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to reestablish that working relationship between us and the district.

Kherat told WCBU in August that the arts programs were "robust and vibrant" compared to where they were when she started. She said she was proud of recent improvements, such as increasing the number of art teachers from 15 in 2014-25 to 17.5 in 2023-24 and additions made to the high school and middle school music programs.

She said the district was looking for ways to improve the programs and asked teachers to express their needs to their principals.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.