No plans to build new SF art school, despite voters approving it in 2016; here's what happened

"I won't say that I feel cheated, but I will say I feel disheartened. I think they deserve better."

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
No plans to build new SF art school, despite voters approving it
The SFUSD will consider adding a bond measure for capitol improvements worth $1.7B. It does not include construction for a new school of the arts.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco School Board will consider adding a bond measure on the November ballot for capitol improvements worth $1.7 billion. The plan does not include any monies for the construction of the new Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, which had been promised to voters in 2016.

The Ruth Asawa School of the Arts is located in an isolated area of San Francisco.

Many have argued that it should be in the heart of the arts community, in close proximity to opera, the ballet, the Davies Symphony Hall, and the San Francisco Jazz Center.

"If you can walk across the street and watch a dress rehearsal or have a master class, you're going to come away with experiences that you will never, never forget, expressed Andi Fong, an arts advocate who in 2016 like thousands of San Franciscans voted to fund a new location for the Ruth Asawa School and an arts center to serve all public school students at 135 Van Ness Avenue.

It was a $744 million bond of which $100 million would go toward the construction of the school and the center. Except that the money got diverted to other projects.

"I won't say that I feel cheated, but I will say I feel disheartened. I think they deserve better," added Fong.

With the money for the Ruth Asawa School, the district was supposed to find matching fund from private donors, but failed to do so, despite having the support of huge artists like Michael Tilson Thomas, the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony.

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Few voters today realize that what they voted on in 2016 never got built.

When the money got diverted, the Director of the California Education Partners was quoted as saying,

"We have schools that have immediate needs that absolutely have to be addressed. This in no way closes the door on future bond programs raising money for the School of the Arts."

Except that, again, most voters fail to now that the school board will soon be presented with a $1.7 billion Facilities Master Plan to improve structural conditions at their existing schools without any of the money going to build the new Ruth Asawa School and arts center as promised in 2016.

"That is a tremendous oversight. How can you say this is a Master Plan for SFUSD facilities and leave out one project which the district has been committed for decades?," asked former school board member, Jill Wynns.

Here's what the superintendent told ABC7 news during an interview shortly after taking office less than a year ago.

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"Not only do I want to support that school, we want to make sure that we are providing art in all of our schools for our kids because it's a path to success and a path to develop critical thinking that we have in our high school rifles. It's definitely a priority to support our art programs," promised Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne.

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