By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University’s Students Motivated by the Arts program celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this year, but because of the university’s tight finances, the program’s future looks doubtful.
Among the handful of people to be laid off as part of university budget cuts are the program’s director and its part-time administrative assistant, whose annual salaries are $71,249 and $18,054, respectively.
“Unfortunately, in this difficult financial times and after extensive review by the College of Creative Arts and Communication as well as the rest of the administration, it was determined” to cut the positions, said Ron Cole, YSU spokesman.
The community arts school offers free arts-education programming to students in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Program personnel have said thousands of Valley students have been through the program since it started.
Nicole Hagerty, a teacher of students with multiple disabilities at Robinwood Elementary School in Boardman, thinks the cuts are unfair to the students who benefited from SMARTS. Students in her classes participated in a SMARTS drum-circle program.
“My own students for the past three years have learned so much through the drum circles, and students who have a hard time learning have been able to participate through the drums,” she said in an email. “It is shameful that the students will lose this program due to budget cuts. The YSU students who have worked so hard to develop a strong program to teach the students have learned so much from them as well through the program.”
Hagerty added that Becky Keck, director, and Leslie Cusano, administrative assistant, “have impacted the special-needs community in a way that many have been unable to. ... Until you see it with your own eyes how amazing it is for the students, it is hard to believe such a program can have such an impact on students.”
Keck couldn’t be reached to comment.
The university and the college hope to maintain most if not all of the programming through this academic year, Cole said.
“Beyond that, we’re in the process of assessing a variety of approaches for outreach in the community,” he said.
President Randy J. Dunn said that as the university deals with a $6.5 million deficit, it must focus on his core mission. Like any business or government, the university must change to continue to move forward, he said.
A loss of state funding as well as enrollment that has fallen for the last three years contributed to the deficit.
“This has been an unfortunate turn of events financially for not only universities across the country but for YSU,” said Bryan DePoy, dean of YSU’s College of Creative Arts and Communication.
But with the loss of revenue over the last few years, the university had to make cuts to not impact the academic core, he said.
“Right now what we’re working on is a transition plan,” DePoy said. “We’re working with community partners that we hope will adopt some aspects of the SMARTS program.”
The dean said a lot of things have to be taken into consideration, one of which is programs will have to go where adequate facilities are available.
“We have some students who do assist with SMARTS, and we want to assure that connectivity to our students and our faculty,” he said. “We’re hoping whatever model emerges from this change, we’ll still serve as a resource.”
YSU has a relationship with Chaney’s Visual and Performing Arts program that will continue, Cole said. The university also reaches youths in the community via a community theater program through the Jewish Community Center that started last summer, the Scholastic Art Awards given each spring and other programs, he said.
Other programs to bring arts and culture to young people are being explored, he said.
This year, SMARTS also moved from downtown Youngstown to the basement of Tod Hall on campus because of the high lease cost. That space, though, wasn’t able to meet the program’s needs.
While much of the program is grant-funded, the salaries are paid from the general fund, Cole said.