Community rallies to try to save school theater job

Drama director reaches out to save position

April 27, 2010

Shorewood — Threatened with the loss of a costumer to manage the Shorewood High School collection of theater costumes, longtime Drama Department Director Barbara Gensler reached out to Shorewood alumni, parents and friends.

Gensler, who could not be reached for comment for this story, posted a letter on the Shorewood High School Alumni Association web page asking for help to raise $15,000 for the part-time costumer's position.

Jenny Steinman Heyden, president of the association, said donations have been arriving from individuals who have had fond memories of their time participating in one of the many aspects of Shorewood theater, from families of current students, even a group of neighbors on Olive Street.

More than $10,000 was raised as of Tuesday with donations continuing to pour in.

The costumer position is part of a larger story for the school district, painful decisions on an $800,000 reduction in cost. The district, struggling with declining enrollment and a resulting loss in state aid, cannot exceed the revenue limit established for it by the state.

Resident student enrollment has declined from 1,857 students in the 2000-2001 school year to 1,598 this year. A further decline to 1,561 is projected for 2010-2011.

Developing other sources of income is also difficult. The district plans to add 37 open enrollment students, which will bring $212,619 to the district. Open enrollment students fill empty seats in a classroom and create no extra cost to the district, although they add to the teaching load.

An increase in athletic fees from $75 to $100 per sport with a cap at $200 instead of the current $150 will add $12,500 to the budget.

Students who are in a club with a paid adviser or participate in drama would pay $50 per club, up from $35, adding $2,500 to the district.

The district would also begin to charge for attendance at its musical events, $3 for an individual, $5 per family.

There is also a projected decrease in the supply budget of $6,290.

Two fewer students will attend the Academy of the North offered by CESA 1, a savings of $16,000 for the coming year. In addition, the difference in salary and benefits between those earned by retiring teachers or those leaving the district and those earned by newer teachers is projected to save the district $166,352.

The technology manager's position would be eliminated, a $54,963 savings. Two full time special education assistants would be eliminated.

Two full time senior kindergarten aide positions would be eliminated, but a full time senior kindergarten teacher would be added, allowing for three senior kindergartens with 18 to 19 students per classroom. The savings totals $1,428.

Other steps, such as moving a class from the high school budget to the recreation department and reducing busing, are also part of the overall picture.

The elimination of the costumer position is estimated to save the district more than $24,000, although that figure could fluctuate widely because the high school would be forced to rent costumes.

The School Board has not yet made its decision on the budget but those reductions, discussed at four community meetings, seem likely.

Steinman Heyden said the school is fortunate to have costumes dating back to the Works Progress Administration in the mid 1930s. Keeping a person in the district to care for them is important, she said.

Carol McWade, now a secretary at Atwater School, is a volunteer costumer for the drama departments.

Her best memories of high school are of the backstage sewing she did while a student at Shorewood High School.

"I learned so much," she said. "It was the best time, sewing, creating costumes and then seeing them on stage."

The costumer does so much, she said, altering and sizing costumes, creating patterns, altering patterns and more.

Steinman Heyden said that if more money is raised than what is needed to save the position, the association will create a Drama Department Designated Fund that could grow to an endowment depending on the amount raise.

If you want to donate, go to Gensler's letter can be read in full on the site.

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