Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Donors to have say in arts school

Five board seats reserved

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Fund raising will continue for Cincinnati's planned $52 million performing arts school, despite opposition to a plan giving private donors a big say in how the school will be run.

In a 4-3 vote, the Cincinnati school board voted Monday for a plan to overhaul the school's governing structure and allow a private fund-raising group to choose five of the school group's 12 members.

"This will be the beginning of the greatest public arts school in the country," Stanley J. Aronoff, a board member of the private fund-raising group, said after the vote. "We still have an unbelievable task to raise $26 million in this economy, but at least we have a chance."

Last week, a spokesman for the arts fund-raising group said fund raising likely would stop unless the school board approved a new school governing plan.

Sue Taylor, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, lamented the board's vote.

"The democratic principles of equity failed," she said. She said teachers should have equal representation on the school's governing body.

For more than two years, the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center - the private group overseeing the planning and fund raising for the new 1,500-student arts school - has been working with the Cincinnati school district administration on the new school governing structure.

The arts group and its fund-raising arm, Cincinnati Arts School Inc., committed to raising $26 million in private donations toward the arts school planned to be built adjacent to Music Hall.

They said a new school governing plan was a key component to fund-raising efforts because donors wanted an agreement giving them a significant voice in how the school is operated.

Private donors have pledged $10 million to date, said Paul Bernish, executive director of the fund-raising group. Last week, Bernish said several million more awaited the passage of a governing plan.

The new school would replace the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Pendleton and Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment in Corryville.

The arts group submitted a plan allowing its members to appoint five of the 12 members on the new school's governing body. Other members would include three teachers, three parents, one community council representative and possibly ex-officio representatives.

The school's governing body would make suggestions on who would be principal, have budgetary oversight and other responsibilities.

The plan, however, drew fire from union members, some parents and several school board members.

The governing plan at the current School for Creative and Performing Arts includes an equal number of teachers, staff members, parents and community members.

Members of the School for Creative and Performing Arts' governing group last week said they learned of the proposed agreement less than a month ago.

"Once again, we're being excluded from any participation in this new school," said Emily Moore, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We should be heard."

"I am very upset the school board has allowed a special interest to believe they can control the governance of a school in a manner different than the equal partnership we have set up in the school now," said Jani Coffey, a Northside resident with two children in the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Despite opposition, the School for Creative and Performing Arts' governing group voted in favor of the new agreement Sunday night.

"We wanted to keep the school moving forward," said John Rogers, a parent and chairman of the school's governing group.

Board members Rick Williams, Melanie Bates, Sally Warner and John Gilligan voted for the new plan.

"We can't do the same things we always have and get different results," Bates said.

Williams said the board must work harder to collaborate with all parties early in the process to avoid conflicts.

"If we continue to deliver the message that it's a hassle to work with us, we will not continue to have the opportunities that make sense for children," he said.

E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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