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FOR MUSIC AND ART, PICTURE ISN'T PRETTY

The city school system last year bought musical instruments for its 46,000 students. Fifteen instruments.

And that was a good year. It was the first time in five years the district had bought any instruments.

"Most of them are being held together by the grace of God, because they're that old," said Ruthetta Scott-Smikle, the supervisor of music. "We have maybe one-quarter of what we really need."

Classroom sound systems also are abysmal.

"You'd be surprised to know how many schools don't have an up-to-date stereo system, much less a CD player," Mrs. Scott-Smikle said.

How many?

"Maybe 10," she said.

The picture isn't much prettier in art class.

"Supplies are basically minimal," said Thomas Jambro, supervisor of art.

An art teacher in the city gets about $1,200 a year in art supplies, Jambro found when he studied the spending in the late 1980s. An art teacher in the suburbs typically receives about $3,000 a year.

The lack of money restricts the kind of art and music programs city schools offer, he said. Oil paints, for example, are expensive, so students do less.

"It all goes back to money," Jambro said.

Budget cuts since the early 1980s have not only eliminated more than 60 teaching jobs, but also saddled art and music educators and their students with inadequate facilities, supplies and equipment. It could get worse next year: Superintendent Albert Thompson has proposed the elimination of another 29 music teaching jobs in his preliminary budget.

Facilities, as well as staffing, have suffered.

In most schools, a regular classroom passes for a music room. It's not unusual for art classes to be conducted in regular classrooms, many of them in the basement and most lacking even a sink for cleanup.

Except for a handful of schools, specialists do not teach art, music and gym until the fourth grade. Funding for those jobs was cut in the early 1980s, and since then, the district has cut about a quarter of its teaching staff for art and music.

"It's obscene to imagine education going on without music or art," said Frank Scinta, the city's Teacher of the Year in 1994 and a music instructor at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. "If it's true we largely form our academic habits by the age of seven or eight, our children are missing a tremendous opportunity."

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