Newly revived MHS Theatre Arts Department faces loss of teachers

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It could be the “last hurrah” for the school in the arts department if Measure S does not pass.

By Caroline Thomas/Special to The Malibu Times

Just as the Theatre Arts Department at Malibu High School has found some roots, it seems uprooting is inevitable, again.

The department has been through several changes in the last few years but actor/director/teacher Jodi Plaia was hired this year as a drama and writing instructor. She has worked in television, regional theatre and is involved in the Alliance Children’s Theatre Group in New York. She was teaching in Hawthorne before Malibu and had hopes to expand into teaching theatre classes all day instead of the two classes she is currently allotted.

Then the “pink slip” came. The much-publicized districtwide budget cuts have hit hard in Malibu schools. Teachers who were the last to be hired in the district were the first to be notified they would be jobless next year. Also hard hit are the areas considered nonessential-Malibu schools stand to lose their librarians, nurses, teachers’ aides, music and art, and theatre instructors.

Plaia is saddened by the prospect. “There’s been a lot of changeover and now I’ve received my pink slip so it may happen again.”

Junior Tyrus Emory, who plays Inspector Javert in the upcoming production of “Les Miserables” is worried that theatre arts will crumble with the upcoming budget cuts.

“We’ve established ourselves as an art school, especially with our choir and jazz band, and now this could be the last hurrah for the school,” Emory said.

Emory also performs with Malibu High’s award-winning choir under the direction of Irene Messoloras, who also faces dismissal if Measure S doesn’t pass.

Recently, the Santa Monica-Malibu School District was able to allocate funds from the 1998 bond measures Propositions X and 1A to create a new facility for the school. The opening of the new theatre at Malibu High held a mixed bag of feelings as it followed the failure of Measure EE-the last attempt at creating school funds.

Principal Mike Matthews and Superintendent John Deasy were hopeful but highly aware of the pending cuts to schools and the arts programs, which are often first to be hit in a financial crunch.

Matthews said the cuts go beyond losing the drama, choir and art teachers. “We will lose teachers in math, English, history and P.E. Nine or 10 teachers in all.”

Also slated to be cut are library and P.E. aides, lifeguards and secretarial staff. A custodian was already dismissed.

“We won’t know about their future until the June 3 election,” Matthews said. “If it passes they stay here.”

“It would be a tragedy if everything was cut,” Emory said. “We have this nice auditorium that we have to use for something.”

Emory and his costars hope that the future holds more opportunities, not less. “I just hope that people have the sense to support the arts.”