Keeping the arts alive

How declining enrollment and Proposition 28 are affecting the arts department


Lauren Chuu

The addition of Proposition 28 provides additional funding for MVHS arts departments, helping to continue sustaining these courses.

In just the past two years, MVHS has reported a decline in enrollment of 278 students, while FUHSD expects a decline of approximately 2,000 students across the five high schools by the 2027-28 school year. 

Subsequently, the district has implemented new methods for adapting to the shrinking student body, causing changes in the MVHS Art Department. In response, art teachers like instrumental music director John Gilchrist are finding new ways to attract incoming students by conducting for and performing at middle schools.

“I worry sometimes about sustainability when it comes to growing the program,” Gilichrist said. “It’s like we might be able to beat declining enrollment this year, but will we be able to beat it next year and the year after? But there has been a pretty big surge in the seventh and the current seventh and sixth grade classes at Kennedy so I’m hoping that that will kind of pay off in the long run.”

Drama teacher Hannah Gould has experienced consequences from the lack of enrollment in drama department classes, such as fewer students joining the Beginning Drama class. In addition, the pandemic resulted in a distinct lack of advertising for the Drama Department, with declining enrollment leading to competition between elective teachers to campaign for their respective classes.

“[Because] of declining enrollment, all of the elective teachers are competing for the same group of students,” Gould said. “And the elective night was actually quite aggressive, people really upped their game [and] no one told each other what they were doing, and then [teachers] really brought out the stops. It feels like it’s an environment that’s really hard to recruit in because whatever you do, someone else is doing [more]. And so I haven’t really found an effective strategy in this landscape yet. I don’t know how to recruit in a better way than what I’ve been doing.”

To ensure schools can continue offering art electives, Proposition 28 provides additional funding for districts’ art, drama and music sections. The proposition passed by California voters allotted 20 sections of Prop 28 funds to FUHSD and MVHS received five of those. According to Assistant Principal Janice Chen, the funds must be allocated to three sections of music, one section of art and one section of drama. 

“[The district wants] to maintain these programs at a certain level and be able to provide a comparable comprehensive high school experience for [its] students,” Chen said. “[But] if we didn’t have [these funds] from the district, next year we are only looking at having [around] six sections of music versus 10 sections of music, so it would significantly cut the music program.”

Gould and Gilchrist both agree that overall, Proposition 28 has been a great addition to supporting the art department. However, Gilchrist also feels that since these additional funds are lawfully required to be used substantively rather than to alleviate pre-existing costs, FUHSD should use these additional funds in a more effective manner.

“[As] a wealthy district there is a lot of money to keep teachers around,” Gilchrist said. “[So], we should keep the teachers around just as we were intending to do, but hire on top of that. I’d also like to see some of that Prop 28 money go towards hiring another instrumental music teacher at every site and to be allocated towards coaches for some of our extra programs like Marching Band.”

Similarly, Gould identifies the district’s lack of transparency about how Prop 28 is being utilized as an issue. Since Proposition 28 concerns the arts teachers specifically, Gould believes the teachers should be involved and heard throughout the decision making process. 

“[The district] needs to be transparent about how they are using Prop 28. They need arts teachers who are the people designed to be impacted by this law, to be in the room and in the conversations to figure out how to use the money,” Gould said. “All year the arts teachers were consistently checking in and asking and reminding and reaching out to people in our district to try to figure out what was going on and how this money was going to be used and our queries were just consistently deferred, redirected, ignored, inadequately responded to. So that was really not a good way to strategize.”

Despite the declining enrollment, Gilchrist hopes to continue expanding his classes throughout the next five years and potentially add another orchestra, build on the jazz program and most importantly, improve the quality of each group. 

“I’d really like us to use this money to support our teachers, not just to keep things going the way that they’ve been going,” Gilchrist said. “I think that this is a great opportunity for some positive change to the way that we structure music. And I’m fearful that we won’t get that change if things keep going the way that they’ve been going.” 

Chen hopes that MVHS will be able to continue offering students as many courses as possible and allow the students to select courses based on individual interests with decisions unaffected by the lack of enrollment.

“The hope is [that] we are going to offer these classes and it is up to our students what their interests are and what they want to explore and then we are going to build a schedule based on the student’s interests,” Chen said. “But if there’s no interest, that is where we as a school have to pivot [toward] our student interests, because that is ultimately what we want to provide.”