Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Group wants voice in new school

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The fund-raising group for the proposed $52 million Cincinnati public performing arts school said Tuesday efforts to raise millions of dollars are in jeopardy unless the school board agrees to give the group a significant voice in the school's decision-making process.

The Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center, the private group helping to oversee fund raising and construction of the new 1,500-student K-12 school, has been working for more than two years with district administration on new ways to govern the school.

But the proposed partnering agreement is drawing fire from some board members, parents and union officials.

The plan centers on a 12-member school governance body that would help select a principal, approve the school budget and monitor fiscal performance.

Five members would be selected by the private arts group and Cincinnati Arts School, Inc., the group's fund-raising arm.

Other members would include three teachers, three parents, one community council representative and possibly ex officio representatives.

That's a change from the current districtwide school governance structure, which gives equal representation to teachers, staff members, parents and community representatives.

"Not a single public school supported by the real estate taxes of the citizens should be for sale to a private organization," said board member Harriet Russell. "You never want to turn down a contribution, but what these contributors want is to buy control."

The arts group has committed to raising $26 million toward the $52 million price tag of the school, while the board has committed to paying the rest. The arts group also proposes pledging at least $500,000 every five years to support school operations.

To raise the private funding, the arts group said it must secure the partnering agreement.

"It absolutely was never intended that we would take control of the school," said Paul Bernish, executive director for the fund-raising group. "What we are looking for is some voice to make sure the quality of the school is maintained."

Bernish said a $6 million pledge already has been lost because of the delay in securing a partnership agreement.

Private donors have pledged $10 million to date. Several million more awaits the passage of a governance plan, Bernish said.

Superintendent Alton Frailey asked the board to submit in writing suggestions for the proposed agreement.

The arts group is requesting a vote on the agreement at the May 19 school board meeting so it can continue its fundraising and secure pledges.

"Unless we have a vote, our fundraising campaign will end," Bernish said.


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