After days of tension and hours of passionate debate, the Houston school board voted 7-2 Thursday to accept a $7.5 million gift for the city's renowned arts high school and to rename the campus after the donors.If my Facebook feed is any indication, a lot of my high school classmates are livid about this decision. They believe that the prestigious fine arts school has been "sold out" by HISD, that the Kinders have never previously been involved with the school and therefore are not "HSPVA family" and are thus unworthy, that the $7.5 million the Kinders are donating in order to get the school renamed after them is a pittance (about 8% of the school's $90.2 million price tag), that the KinderMorgan pipeline company from which the family gets its wealth is evil and corrupt, that it's not fair for a school like HSPVA to receive such a donation when so many other HISD schools are struggling with inadequate resources, that students, parents and alumni had no input in this decision, etc.
The vote marked the first time the Houston Independent School District sold naming rights for a campus - a rarity in the public elementary and secondary school arena.
The Houston-based Kinder Foundation, run by local billionaire couple Rich and Nancy Kinder, offered the donation in exchange for calling the campus the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The money will go toward rebuilding the school downtown - funding theater lighting and seats, a sound system, a specialized dance floor and more.
This anger is understandable, especially when viewed as a dynamic between the (generally liberal) alumni of an arts school versus the (generally conservative) business elite. And, to be sure, my schoolmates aren't united in this reaction; some are welcoming the gift as necessary to provide future students with a state-of-the art campus, while others are noting that Houston's arts community can't pick and choose where its support comes from. As one of my classmates wrote, "If we forced every donor to the arts to pass a purity test, we would never see another dime."
I am among those HSPVA alums who just can't get too worked up over this. This isn't to say I'm thrilled at the fact that my high school now has a family's name on it, but I recognize that donations such as these were necessary if the downtown facility was to be completed, and I also know that all of the fine arts facilities downtown have a philanthropist's name attached to them.
Furthermore, it really doesn't affect me personally. I'm not going to stop calling it "HSPVA," or start saying "Kinder" when people ask me where I went to high school. I doubt many fellow alumni will do that, either.
Besides, I've seen this before. When I was an architecture student at the University of Houston, local developer Gerald Hines made a large donation to the College of Architecture and they renamed the school after him. Many of my classmates and studiomates were outraged: they also perceived the transaction as a "sellout," and they didn't like the fact that the school was being named after a developer rather than an actual architect. (Never mind the fact that developers are the ones who pay architect's bills...) However, all I could think was, "cool, money for more scholarships and better professors."
Finally, a word about HISD board member Jolanda Jones, who was one of two trustees to vote against the name change and who earlier this year spearheaded an effort to spend $1.2 million of the cash-strapped school district's money to rename several schools that previously bore names of figures associated with the Confederacy:
"I find it offensive that people say if you don't vote for this, that you don't care about the kids. Actually I care about all the kids in HISD," Jones said.Translation: I'd rather keep the entire district impoverished than accept a donation that's just going to benefit those artsy kids at our district's flagship high school. Never mind the fact that, unlike my renaming scheme, this one is actually being paid for by a private entity, rather than by taxpayers.
"It seems like HISD is like a pimp, and the schools are what they sell," Jones added. "That was the nicest way I could think to say it.""Pimp?" You stay ghetto, Jolanda. I've never been impressed with you.
Kuff, Guidry News and the Houston Press have more.