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Town “treasures” add value to Beach

September 30, 2015
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

The last 30 years of my career as a classical-music performer/teacher were as a faculty member in a relatively distinguished, private Midwestern university music department. While most of it was a wonderful adventure with excellent students and colleagues, the most disappointing part was the amount of time spent justifying my own and my department's continued existence in the institution.

It is well-documented in the education business that every time money gets tight, the Fine Arts departments become the first targets.

Every few years, a new bean counter would become vice-president of Finance. He/she would do some kind of audit of each program based on credit-hours produced and, not surprisingly, concluded that the Music Department was one of the biggest contributors to the deficit. They were right. A section of Western Civ. that met for an hour three times a week with 60 students produced 180 credit hours. The same three contact hours I spent teaching instrumental music students one-on-one produced nine. We were under constant attack, both by bureaucrats and other faculty because we cost so much to support.

My favorite memory of this time was when we were defended most eloquently in the Faculty Senate by a colleague in the College of Business a "Distinguished Professor of Accounting" no less the ultimate bean counter who boldly stated that to judge a department based on whether they made or lost revenue was ludicrous. He said it should be judged on whether or not it "added value" to the operation, and that the Music Department most assuredly did. What a concept! The attackers backed off and the Department survived yet another onslaught. I retired soon after.

The point of all of this is that here on the Beach, the Town Council has just completed next year's budget after a heated and passionate debate about whether to raise taxes at all and/or by how much. They settled somewhere in the middle on a modest increase too much for some; not enough for others. No one got everything they wanted, a sign that at least at the local level, democracy still works.

Every year when the budget/tax issue comes up, there are cries from some residents (and council members) to close Bay Oaks, the Town Pool, the Mound House and the Mooring Field because they don't break even. These things are our Music Department. They add value to the Town. They are a part of what makes us what we are, just like the Metropolitan Opera, Philharmonic, Art and Natural History Museums and other cultural institutions are a part of making New York what it is. And none of them make money either.

I'm not saying that our local "treasures" can't be made more efficient and less of a burden. The town could do much better at promoting all of them and getting them used more. The rates, particularly for non-residents, could be raised without killing participation. Likewise, during slow-use periods, there seem to be more employees just sitting around than necessary. This should all be studied. What must not happen is that the "Close-it-downers" who can only count beans should prevail.

Jay Light

Fort Myers Beach



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