I was recently at a party where Mrs. Casey from Torrance mentioned that the Torrance Unified School District cut their entire arts program. Mrs. Casey is chairman of the board for the Torrance Adventures in Arts Program. The community and parents in Torrance all came together and built a fund of $20,000 per year to organize community artists to give their time to the schools. It is a wild success and others have told me the amazing results they are getting from this program. It was not until the arts were cut that people were willing to try something else. What if the school district had moved towards more community participation early on? Imagine the Torrance program with $160,000 instead of $20,000?
I asked Mrs. Casey what they are currently offering the children. Mrs. Casey explained that the wide range of arts being taught eclipses the gluing of macaroni on paper plates that we all grew up with. Students learn about art that is in demand and pays the bills. This is an important learning opportunity for children that want to grow up and get a job as an artist. With real world activities taught by some very talented professional instructors, the children are given an understanding of art as a profession versus just a hobby.
Why I mention this art stuff is because it ties into how we spend our money and the kind of thinking we need to champion in order to flourish as a community in the face of hard financial times. We are polarized by two sides that will not give ground. The union that represents Torrance Unified School District would not give an inch on firing teachers in order to build a lower cost art program. On the opposite side was group of people on fixed incomes that would not pay higher taxes that won the election, and the entire arts program was cut due to a lack of funding. In the end the children lost.
Right now at least one third of the voters do not want taxes raised in Santa Monica. Many of them point to some historical facts that relate to the Great Depression. You see when the market crashed in 1929, the world did not fly into the sun over night. It took about three years for the unemployment numbers to break 20 percent and another year to peak at 25.2 percent. That means if we look at the 2008 Great Recession, we have another year until we reach 20 percent unemployment. The bad news is the government changed the way they count the unemployed and do not include people that have been unemployed for more than 18 months. If we look at today’s unemployment numbers in the same way they did in 1929, we would have to use about 90 percent of the U6 Federal Unemployment rate. What is scary is 90 percent of the U6 number is about 15.39 percent at the end of 2010. If that happens city, county, state and federal tax collections will drop massively, and we are already seeing the drop of 16 percent in Los Angeles County.
Why it’s important to understand this stuff is if the economy keeps following the events of the Great Depression, raising taxes right now would hurt more than cutting services. The Great Depression lasted 13 years and it took unemployment that long to return to 1929 numbers. In that time the city of Santa Monica was forced to cut a great number of expenses and services because they had less people to tax.
On the other side of this tax debate is the group that wants to raise taxes. They are the majority of the voters of Santa Monica. Measure A got 13,000 votes. With that in mind the majority of voters in Santa Monica believe money should be raised for the schools and the City Council that represents its citizens believes we want to raise taxes. They believe that if we don’t raise those taxes our children will lose education at a time when they will need it to face a depression.
The problem is that many on both sides believe that we are dealing with an on/off switch. You either want one or the other. But we have other options that must be looked at closely. Can we build a better arts program for half the money? Has anyone seriously looked at an alternative or has the teachers’ union told you that is not an option?
Torrance waited until the district had no money and now are scrambling for every dollar to keep the arts going. If we cut six art teachers instead of four, we would have $160,000 or eight times more money than Torrance has to build a system based on the Torrance Adventures in Arts program. Taking advantage of the generosity of world class local artists, we can build a new and improved arts program that costs half as much.
David Alsabery is a Republican that donates to the arts and all around nice guy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.