It’s curtains for some school classes

Durango High School students gave a spring performance of Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but they’re expecting next year to be a tragedy.

Because of budget cuts, Durango Principal Mark Gums has decided to stop offering theater classes and turn drama into an after-school club or extracurricular activity.

Junior Joshua Nadler, 17, thinks his principal has effectively drawn the curtains on the theater program at Durango, 7100 W. Dewey Drive near Rainbow Boulevard and Hacienda Drive.

“I think the seniors next year will produce one or two more plays,” Nadler said. “After that it will diminish. There will be no more formal instruction.”

Many principals are being forced to make unpopular decisions as the Clark County School District tries to manage a $120 million budget gap for next year, officials said. Spring Valley High School near Chinatown is dropping a Chinese class.

The School Board is scheduled to meet today to adopt a $2.1 billion tentative budget for 2009-10.

“No one is happy about these cuts,” said Michael Rodriguez, a district spokesman. “We understand why parents and students are angry. These weren’t easy decisions to make.”

Alyse Kurley, 16, a junior, said the theater department had become a “safe house” in these “stressful times.”

“Many students in Las Vegas are suffering because their parents have lost their homes and their jobs,” Kurley said. “The theater department at Durango High School is like a second home for us students.”

Kurley, who has performed “Cinderella” for elementary school children, added, “The stage has taught us many things like public speaking, confidence, self-esteem and much, much more.”

Because students are having to pick their classes for next year, they’re becoming aware of the impact of budget cuts when they see that popular classes have been eliminated.

Principals have been forced to plan reductions because of a district mandate to staff their schools at 97 percent of what their enrollments would normally require.

Because block scheduling also has been eliminated, schools such as Durango and Spring Valley have had to cut 13 to 15 teaching positions each since they’re losing instruction time. Their school day is going from an eight-period day to a six-period day.

Rodriguez estimated that 15 high schools in Clark County this year offered block scheduling, which gives students longer class periods and the chance to enroll in extra courses.

The School Board decided to eliminate block scheduling to save costs.

Bob Gerye, principal at Spring Valley High School, 3750 S. Buffalo Drive near Spring Mountain Road, was apologetic in announcing on his school Web site that some classes in choir, theater and Chinese had to be cut because the school was losing “15 outstanding educators” next year.

“In my 35 years in education, I have never seen or had to endure such draconian cuts in education. These will affect our children and our grandchildren for years and years to come,” Gerye said.

Gerye also put a plea on his Web site for donations such as office supplies and toilet paper.

Principals are limited in what they can cut because of state mandates requiring core classes such as English and math.

Even those who understand the need for cuts don’t understand how they’re being made.

Gums, the principal at Durango High, has come under criticism for eliminating theater but keeping choir and band.

Debi Nadler, a mother, said she doesn’t want to see the other performing arts cut but can’t understand why some compromises weren’t made to save theater.

Gums did not return calls to the Review-Journal, but Rodriguez said he understood that Gums had to make a staffing decision. Gums also thought that choir and band were important for school functions, Rodriguez said.

“This wasn’t an arbitrary decision,” Rodriguez said.

Cerina Vincent, a member of the Durango class of 1997, has made a living playing the yellow Power Ranger in a superhero TV series and a “scream queen” in slasher movies such as “Cabin Fever.” She recently appeared in the sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”

Vincent, 30, said performing in a Durango production of “The Sound of Music,” in which she sang “I’m 16 Going on 17,” helped give her the self-confidence to succeed in Hollywood.

She is pleading with the principal to save theater.

“Las Vegas is a tough city to grow up in,” Vincent said of her hometown. “I think it’s going to be more difficult now.”

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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