By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer | Daily News
|Billionaire developer Eli Broad speaks about Los Angeles, the Grand Ave project and the future of Los Angeles Thursday, February 15, 2006 at his office in Westwood, CA. (David Sprague/Staff Photographer, File)||Construction on the LAUSD's $250 million art school is well on its way in downtown Los Angeles, but philanthropist Eli Broad is getting involved because the District appears to have fallen behind on its plans for the school. (Evan Yee/Staff Photographer)|
October 17 -- Less than a year before Los Angeles Unified is scheduled to open a flagship performing arts school downtown, the project's cost has ballooned to $230 million and key backers remain worried about a lack of progress they believe has cost the district community support and donations.
The district has yet to finalize a curriculum or hire a principal or any staff - and the school's executive director recently walked away from the job halfway through her contract.
Philanthropist Eli Broad - who was a driving force and financial contributor to the project - is now shopping it around to charter school groups in hopes they can take it out of the district's hands.
"Many people, including Eli Broad, have been extremely frustrated with the delays that have plagued this project since its start," Broad Foundation spokeswoman Karen Denne said in a written statement.
"There is still no principal and no curriculum, and the school is scheduled to open in less than a year. There is no plan yet in place to ensure that this school will have the right leadership and the right curriculum to be successful."
The project, first proposed in 2002 at the site of the district's former headquarters at 450 N. Grand Ave., was initially scheduled to be a traditional high school costing $54 million.
But Broad lobbied to create a performing arts school to serve as an entrance to the city's $1.5billion Grand Avenue Civic Center development. He also pledged
THE DOWNTOWN NEWS REPORTS: The 1,700 students who enroll in the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts when it opens in 2009 will have to demonstrate some artistic proficiency or interest. The school will cost $232 million. Photo by Gary Leonard. Downtown News
$5million toward the building and operation of the facility - including $3.1million to ensure the construction of the school's 150-foot tower, which has no function but is key to the building's conceptual design.
The new plan increased the cost to $72 million at that time, and it was expected to open in 2005. But delays, inflation, cost overruns and other problems have now raised the cost to more than $230 million.
While local superintendent Richard Alonzo has drafted an outline for curriculum, budgets and staff, key components are missing.
Though the district has selected 26 finalists for principal, there is no teaching staff and questions remain about how 500 of the school's 1,700 seats will be allotted among students outside the Belmont area who seek a seat in the arts program.
"There's no plan. There's nothing in place right now, and there's 328 days before we open," said Araceli Ruano, chairwoman of the school's advisory board, on Wednesday.
Halfway into her two-year contract as the school's executive director, Elizabeth Kennedy walked away last month. As the face of the prestigious school, one of Kennedy's roles was to create community partnerships.
Kennedy wrote in an e-mail that she left the school for a job with a local museum that "better matches my skills." She did not elaborate on her reason for leaving.
Leadership concerns prompted Broad to approach Green Dot Public Schools about converting the school to a charter. The notion drew fire from Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
Well aware of Broad's ambition to give Los Angeles a world-class arts school, Cortines was surprised to hear he was pushing the charter idea. Cortines said the district will resist that proposal.
"This is a district school," Cortines said. "It's not going to be given to anybody."
Luis Sanchez, chief of staff for board member Monica Garcia, said concern and frustration are justified and have actually forced better communication and focus on the school.
Broad's interest is well known by the board and district staff, Sanchez said, but is not to be mistaken as an attempt to take over the school.
The visual and performing arts schools, Sanchez insists, will first serve students in the area and will not become an elite school.
Broad also approached officials at Green Dot Public Schools and PUC Charter Schools about partnering with the school, across the 101 Freeway from the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Neither group, however, has the will or ability to do that.
"Charter is something that is always a possibility, but not now," Ruano said. "What we need to focus on is the model and the plan."
In the meantime, the new school's oversight board, Discovering the Arts, has not been able to raise funds, host community events or agree to requests to film on campus, Ruano said.
"Will the school open? Yes," she said. "But will there be opportunities missed? Likely."
Ref Rodriguez, co-founder of the Partnership to Uplift Communities charter schools, said Broad asked him to help create "charter-like" flexibility for the school. Sanchez and Cortines both agree the school should have some freedom from district regulations.
An arts school cannot be run like a regular district school, Rodriguez said. But the maintenance needs, which include a 950-seat theater, cannot be handled by charter operators.
"It's an LAUSD school," Rodriguez said. "I personally don't believe it should be a charter school. There are different ways to achieve the same thing, which is a good education."
For a school to convert from a traditional school to a charter, 51 percent of the teachers must sign a petition. Then they have to apply for charter status to the school district.
"You need parents and teachers to vote," Ruano said about the charter proposal, which she called a distraction. "You don't even have teachers there, but there is a huge sense of urgency."
Rodriguez said charter conversion would pose other problems.
"It's so late in the game. Decisions aren't going to be made thoughtfully with community involvement. There's less than 10 months left to open the school."
Steve Barr, founder and president of Green Dot Charter Schools, said he welcomes the idea of converting the arts school to a charter. But he said he told Broad to first consider a partnership arrangement between the district, local businesses and charters.
"(Broad) wants to see a great school like Juilliard," Barr said. *
"People come to us and conversations happen because there's a lack of confidence in the district."
Despite community concerns, the school will remain within the LAUSD, Cortines vowed.
"I want to make sure the school lives up to the dreams and hopes of all of us that want an art school," Cortines said. "I will ensure that."
*smf: One doesn't know where to begin or who has it wrong: Barr or Broad.
- The Julliard School is not a public high school.
- It is not a charter high school.
- It is not a high school at all.
- It is a private music and arts conservatory – the equivalent of a a college or university.
- Julliard is notorious the most selective institution of higher education in the nation – with rigorous entrance requirements and auditions and interviews. It has an acceptance rate of 7%.
Student Budget: The estimated budget for a Juilliard student for the nine-month academic year 2008-09 is calculated as follows:
Tuition $28,640 Room and Board (residence hall and meal plan) Double Room
Books, Supplies, Personal Expenses 4,100 Totals Double Room
source: Wikipedia & Julliard
see also: ARTS HIGH SCHOOL TO HAVE AUDITION PROCESS: Applicants at $232 Million Facility Will Undergo 'Exercises' For Skill, Interest Level