Magnet lead teacher at EBR magnet school reassigned to teach visual arts

An art-focused magnet school in Baton Rouge that planned to quit having a full-time visual arts teacher in favor of having the classroom teachers handle those duties will have someone teaching visual arts full time after all.

Principal Mark Richterman announced the change of direction Thursday night via an automated phone message to parents at Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. He said Renee Miller will teach visual arts classes in the 2014-15 school year and thanked her for her “sacrifice” in resuming her old duties.

Miller was the school’s longtime visual arts teacher until a year ago when she was promoted to magnet lead teacher, a job where she splits her time between Baton Rouge Center and Mayfair Lab School, a new magnet school that opened in August. Now, she will work only at Baton Rouge Center and will retain her promotion as a magnet lead teacher.

Richterman got a hostile reception from some parents Tuesday night as he defended his decision to eliminate the dedicated visual arts position as he tried to figure out how best to cut 8 percent of his school’s $2 million budget. It’s part of larger push in which Superintendent Bernard Taylor has directed principals of the 80-plus schools to cut 4 percent to 8 percent of their budgets, depending on their level of student poverty.

Richterman said he wanted classroom teachers to pick up the slack left by the lack of a visual arts teacher, with Miller training teachers once a week in visual arts instruction. The school would retain dedicated teachers in creative writing, dance, general music and instrumental music.

School Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson, whose District 5 includes Baton Rouge Center, was at Tuesday’s parents meeting. She didn’t speak but talked with many parents afterward and later gave a report to Taylor, who then intervened.

“An arts school should have an arts teacher,” Ware-Jackson said. “That was totally ridiculous.”

Taylor told the School Board Thursday that he is working with principals throughout the parish to figure out ways to make the best of the cuts and find creative solutions and, failing that, help offset cuts to retain vital positions.

“If there is a need, that need will be met,” Taylor said.

Jessica Eberhard is one of the parents who helped circulate an online petition seeking to restore the visual arts position, a petition that as of Friday afternoon had 212 signatures. She said the parents she’s interacted with are happy to have Miller back but are still wary.

“It is a temporary solution in that there will be an art teacher teaching art, which is good,” Eberhard said.

Eberhard, however, said even with Miller handling her old duties, the latest plan still calls for elimination from the position of visual arts teacher.

“The long-term solution has to be to get that position back,” Eberhard said.

The developments have energized parents and they will be more vigilant, she said.

“I think the situation is a clearly a catalyst to get people more involved again,” she said.