Saving the arts through solar energy? It’s possible, and the San Diego Unified School Board accomplished it on Tuesday night.
During the special budget meeting, a $115 million revenue and expenditure solutions plan was introduced to help close the budget deficit. This plan included reducing the district’s Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA), to which many teachers, parents, students, and community members objected.
According to Nick Rabkin, author of Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century,”[R]esearch shows strong correlations between high levels of student achievement and the arts.” Involvement in music has been shown to improve test scores and student performance in many subjects.
After the first reading of the 2011-2012 budget was presented by the district’s chief finance officer, Ron Little, and the district’s financial advisor, Mark Young, trustee Shelia Jackson brought forward a motion.
This motion was similar to the memos submitted by Vice President John Lee Evans and trustee Scott Barnett. Both memos, as well as Jackson’s motion, supported the reinstatement of VAPA through the savings found in the district-wide solar installation plan.
Little explained that though the numbers varied slightly, the solar energy savings would likely add up to just over a million dollars.
“It is a very straightforward budget process,” said trustee Kevin Beiser. “The solar energy savings will be applied to offset the cost of keeping music teachers.”
Between the solar energy savings and the elimination of the addition of two new area superintendents, the $1.5 million total will not only restore the entire VAPA department, but will also restore the music teachers at Crown Point Junior Music Academy and Oak Park Music Conservatory, two magnet elementary schools.
“That will ensure that we have music and arts throughout the district,” Jackson said.
The vote to restore the program was unanimous.
VAPA employs 36 full and part-time instrumental music teachers for a total of 29 full-time employees, according to Karen Childress-Evans, the director of VAPA. The department also employs several resource teachers in theatre, dance, visual art, and general music.
VAPA is identified as a core subject by the No Child Left Behind Act as well by the State of California, which, according to Childress-Evans, “requires dance, theatre, music and visual art to be taught to every student K-6 and be available to every student in grades 6-12.”
The department serves 12,000 students per year, a number that is steadily increasing.
San Diego Unified has one of the largest solar programs of any district in the country. According to their website, the district is ”on pace to save as much as $50 million through expansion of its solar energy program.” New additions to the program will increase solar capacity from 4.17 megawatts on 28 sites to 13.5 megawatts at 80 sites.
Roughly 30% of the district’s total energy usage will be offset by solar energy.
For more information, visit http://sdusd.rem-systems.com. There, you can see which schools in the district are currently using solar panels as well as a summary of the energy produced and the equivalent pollution savings.