Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 7, 2014

Arts overload in school bond projects?

by Steven Nelson

Can there be too much song and dance?

Investments in middle schools needs to reflect a balance of community values, and of the future career needs of the students. I think the emphasis on performing arts (40 percent of Graham facilities improvements) is part of what undercuts STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) investments. Allocating over $6 million for a large performing arts theater, plus almost $4 million for performing arts classrooms and a corresponding MUR (multi-use room) move, means 40 percent of Graham expenditures go to performing arts.

Trustees of the Mountain View Whisman School District are set to discuss the spending plan for Measure G bonds at the March 6 meeting and at a community meeting March 16.

There is no endowment for technology equipment upgrades in five to 10 years. Is there "fiber to the classroom" so adequate Internet bandwidth will be easily available in three to five years? There are not 'eight sinks in all science classrooms' that five science teachers have repeatedly asked for. Instead, there is a performing arts gush of spending. And there is a projected overspending of the $25 million bond money for Graham. Crittenden plans "waive" class 1 earthquake upgrades to save money.

Science, technology, engineering and math is the path most of our students choose for careers in the 21st century. More of our students take science and math than take performing arts. Most jobs and most careers in Silicon Valley are in STEM, not in theater arts, or song, or dance. When young people graduate from even a community college, the median income from performance arts are about $24,000, and for those in STEM fields is about 50 percent higher, $36,000. At the four-year college degree level, different studies show a similar large difference in the first years of a career. Neither President Obama or I 'trash' performing arts careers, but let's keep a realistic, non-American Idol, perspective.

I support the arts, both performance and graphic. I think there easily is a need for 10 percent of the budget for a brand spanking new GMS strings (Performing Arts) classroom. One-tenth of the budget or $2 million to $3 million for a brand new classroom and also renovation (more like Crittenden) of the existing arts spaces. We have two high school-sized performing arts theaters already — they are at our public high schools, and they are easily rented. This year, the total community demand for 350 seat theaters is so small that Mountain View High School no longer even rents out its theater.

Spend our taxpayer's money in proportion to the needs of the high-tech community we are in. "Education for the World Ahead" must not get so diverted, in my opinion, from the highest paying careers available in our own community. We are not New York City. And this is only 'my opinion.'

Steven Nelson is a trustee of the Mountain View Whisman School District

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