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After push by LA school board, another deadline for Arts budget

The Los Angeles Unified school board discusses the district's arts education plan during a meeting Feb. 11, 2014.
The Los Angeles Unified school board discusses the district's arts education plan during a meeting Feb. 11, 2014.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

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The Los Angeles Unified school board Tuesday had its most detailed public discussion yet on the future of arts education in the district - with many board members asking an administrator pointed questions about whether instruction was equitably distributed and what it would cost to expand it.

"This is a tough piece," said board member Monica Garcia, who is politically in line with Superintendent John Deasy.  "I think this is an example of something that everyone supports and yet - as you pointed out - we're better, but we're far away from where we want to be."

"I want to know: what's the dollar investment that it takes," she added.

Steve Zimmer, a teacher and moderate member of the board, said he was worried about fairness and wanted something like an "equity report card" on arts access for students. 

"I think we need to just be a little bit more direct and explicit about who's got access, who doesn't," he said.  

After a 30-minute discussion, the board reached a consensus that administrators should provide an arts-related curriculum budget for a first look in April.

"We're going to be doing a budget, but we've got to wait until that Governor unwraps everything in May to really, really be more definitive," said school board President Richard Vladovic.

The district's new arts education plan, released last summer, is a result of former school board member Nury Martinez's Arts at the Core resolution in October 2012, which sought to restore arts education access and funding after extreme budget cuts hit the district after the recession. Martinez's resolution called for a detailed funding strategy to be delivered by July 1, 2013. When that deadline came and went, Zimmer called for a new deadline of Dec. 3, which was also missed. 

Tuesday's discussion started as a report on the status of arts education in the district.

Gerardo Loera, L.A. Unified's executive director of curriculum and instruction, said the district has made progress implementing the new plan. He said teachers are being trained in arts integration, more than 70 arts organization are helping deliver instruction and every elementary school in the district got a traveling arts teacher this school year, up from 78 percent last school year.

But as KPCC has reported - traveling arts teachers only see a fraction of students at each school, and many schools in Los Angeles Unified only receive one semester of arts access, not an entire school year. 

Loera also said the district's music repair shop, which KPCC reported on in October, has drastically reduced its backlog of broken instruments from 2,679 in November 2012 to 485 now. He said the backlog will be cleared by May 2014. The average repair time for instruments sent over now is two weeks, down from several months. Some instruments had been stranded for years.

The district added two new instrument repair techs and posted four additional job openings after KPCC's story; it has also been increasing the use of outside contractors. 

School board member Bennett Kayser called the report "very encouraging." Garcia and Zimmer were the most critical.

Zimmer said he was surprised that the district had such a "tiny" number of arts teachers - and the high bar schools had to meet to get any time at all on their schedule.

"I was really struck that you had to get to over 700 students in a elementary school to even have half of an FTE for an arts instructor," Zimmer said, referring to a full-time equivalent arts teaching position.

He said that was particularly near-sighted, when a recent report found that one in seven full-time jobs in Los Angeles County are directly or indirectly part of the creative economy.

"It seems that there's an economic driver as well to making our investment," he said.

Board member Monica Ratliff took the lead on pushing for a deadline for the arts education plan's budget. 

But Loera at times countered the idea of a discrete budget.

"Ultimately I believe the superintendent will package that with the rest of the budget that the board will ultimately act on and decide on during that regular process," he said. 

The board ordered the arts budget to go before Ratliff's curriculum committee all the same.