Dr. Thompson Guest Column: SRQ Daily!

Dr. Thompson Guest Column: SRQ Daily!

Keep Sarasota Schools on Top

JANUARY 11, 2018

Next month voters in Sarasota County will decide a very important issue: whether to renew the 1-mill referendum first approved in 2002 that provides extra funding for the elementary, middle, and high schools in our district. If the funding is renewed, it yields approximately $56.5 million extra dollars for Sarasota schools yearly. Those “extra” dollars have been the primary reason the Sarasota school system is one of only two districts in the state to receive an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education every year since the grade rating began. Although an “A” grade can never be guaranteed, the most important point is this extra funding equips our young people with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and in their career in this turbulent 21st century.

The money from the referendum renewal will be used for a number of important purposes. First, it continues extra funding of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). Second, it provides students 30 more minutes of classroom instruction per day.  Third, it helps the district reduce the academic disparities between children of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Fourth, it continues the boost in teachers’ pay so that it is among the state’s upper ranks, which keeps good Sarasota teachers in Sarasota and brings the best to the district each year.

But from my perspective, the most important reason to renew this funding is to continue the financial support for the district’s nationally recognized arts programs. Basically, this referendum money puts the “A” into the STEM curriculum, by adding the “A” for Arts to make it STEAM. That “A” is important because it gives those important STEM subjects energy, creativity and vitality. Plus, the “A” is what distinguishes the Sarasota area from other Florida beach communities.

That “A” representing the arts programs supported by the renewal of this referendum is even more critical for the students who are the beneficiary of this community’s support. It has been proven over and over again that the arts in schools increase student academic performance and keep students from dropping out of school.  Look at the statistics. A student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than those who are not involved. Students with high arts participation and LOW SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS have a 4-percent dropout rate---five times lower than their socioeconomic peers not involved in the arts. Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education. Students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than students who take only a half year or less.

There is one other very important reason why keeping the “A” as a result of this referendum is so important to our young people. The world today’s young people will encounter in the 21st century will be far different from today. As a result, one of the most critical skills these students will need is creativity. Creativity is the one skill that cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence. It is also a skill that cannot be outsourced. And, it is the one skill that allows us as human beings to creatively “recreate” our future. As a society we have always “recreated” ourselves during the passage of time from the agricultural age to the industrial age to the information age, and now as we enter another age not yet defined. So where does one learn in school to be creative? Although one does not need to be an artist to be creative, the best learning environment for creativity is most often in the arts. That’s the one area where there are no standardized tests; there are no “right or wrong” answers because there are multiple answers; it’s where one can take risks; and it’s a place where one’s imagination can flourish.

Remember, this referendum is a renewal. Thus, voting “yes” will not cost property owners more money. It only continues funding at the current level: 1-mill = $100 per $100,000 of assessed home value. The owner of a home valued at $300,000 and with a homestead exemption of $25,000, for example, will pay about 75 cents per day, much less than my beloved cup of Starbucks coffee, to continue having one of the best school districts and most well-educated and best prepared young people in the state.

Whether you have children in school or not, the kids sitting in classes today are the very people who will someday work and lead this community. The quality of education they receive today affects the quality of your life here and now. And, the community’s response to a renewal referendum like the one on the ballot in March is a demonstration of the values the community holds dearly.

For me, the choice is easy. Please join me in voting in favor of the renewal of the 1-mill referendum on March 20.

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design

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