by Sue Ann Rybak

Jenks principal Mary Lynskey discussed budget shortfalls with the school's Home & School Association. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybach)

J.S. Jenks Elementary School, 8301 Germantown Ave., faces a projected budget deficit of more than $150,000 for next year. Overall, the school lost 5 percent of its funding as a result of Gov. Tom Corbett’s statewide budget cuts in education, which removed $1.18 billion for PreK-12 education.

Jenks fared better than some other schools because it was deemed to be less `over-funded’ compared to other schools,” said Mary Lynskey, principal of Jenks.

Empowerment and Renaissance Schools and Promise Academies did not receive any cuts.”

Lynskey said her goal now is to save positions so that programs such as JAM (Jenks Art and Music) and FLEX (computer-based language program) can continue to move forward. Both programs are in danger of being cut. The art position has been cut to a three-day position, Lynskey said. Without a full-time art teacher, the art portion of JAM will not be able to run, she said.

The JAM program is a specialized music and art program for students in grades fourth through eighth. In the program, which is still in its infancy, students are individually selected to participate in the art or music program based upon certain criteria: talent, attendance, grades and PSSA scores.

The music or art department selects 12 to 15 candidates from each grade. Students in the music program must complete a performance piece. Art students are required to submit a portfolio.

A study by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum found that students who participated in the Learning Through Art program performed better in literacy and critical thinking skills than did students who were not in the program.

The 1999 College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers, prepared by the College Entrance Examination Board, found that students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math.

Lynskey said she does not want to lose these programs at Jenks, noting that students in the music program receive instruction on a variety of instruments. She said that 11 staff members, including music teachers Andrew Leland and Steve Kell, are at risk of losing their jobs because they have less than three years experience in the district.

I am proud of our school,” Lynskey said. “We have a very dedicated staff. I know we don’t have the perfect school, but no school is perfect. Jenks really does stand apart from other schools in the district.”

Our projected enrollment for next year is 480,” Lynskey said. “This is not an increase from the previous year. We want to encourage people to register their children for kindergarten early. If we have low enrollment, we risk losing a kindergarten teacher. Dr. Ackerman is still threatening the loss of full-day kindergarten pending budget cuts and union negotiations, but for the time being both of our teachers are in the budget.”

Unfortunately, Jenks will lose good teachers because of seniority,” said Lurline Jones, whose granddaughter attends Jenks. “The 400 people who were laid off at the district office will be put into the pool for teacher positions. Many qualified teachers will lose their jobs to teachers who have not been in a classroom in a long time. The sad thing is we will lose good teachers for teachers that were not performing at the Renaissance schools. It’s sad when children are not the most important thing.”

Below are ways to advocate for public education in general and J.S. Jenks in particular.

Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget includes major cuts to education funding. The total statewide level of cuts for PreK-12 education is $1.18 billion – a 15 percent cut. The biggest cut in state funding is for basic education, which would be reduced statewide by $550 million.