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Frustrated LA school board members' message to administrators: Provide detailed arts budget

School board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff during an April 29, 2014 school board committee meeting.
School board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff during an April 29, 2014 school board committee meeting.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

Los Angeles Unified School board members on Tuesday repeatedly called for more information on how administrators are providing arts education, saying they've been largely shut out for months.

"This is a point of ongoing concern and frustration," board member Steve Zimmer said during a curriculum committee meeting in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday. "We remain right where we were almost a year ago now." 

Board member Monica Ratliff, who heads the committee, said she won't vote on Superintendent John Deasy's proposed 2014-15 budget until administrators provide a detailed budget showing how they'll expanded access to the arts.

RELATED: New proposal for LA schools reduces arts exposure time to serve more students

A detailed budget was initially due when the district's new arts plan was released last summer, to show how administrators would meet an October 2012 school board decision to make the arts a core subject and drastically increase access.

In February, district officials presented a budget outline that would increase funding by nearly $16 million in the next three years — but most of new funds were budgeted for "arts integration" for classroom teachers. It didn't address how the district would expand arts classes.

Ratliff requested an expanded budget again during an April 29 committee meeting. It was due Tuesday. School administrators failed to deliver it.

"I was disappointed," Ratliff said. 

None of the district's arts education staff spoke during the public meeting. Gerardo Loera, executive director of the school system's office of curriculum and instruction, responded to board members' questions.

Some of those questions involved the elementary school orchestra program. Back and forth changes over the past few months have created lots of confusion at schools.

Some that have had a successful orchestra program for many years reported losing it for the upcoming school year because the new form the district required them to fill out didn't make it clear the central office would pay for the classes. 

Administrators handed out a list of 165 elementary schools scheduled to get instrumental music classes next year. (Check list below to see if your school is included).

But Loera said he didn't know whether schools that want orchestra and aren't on the list might still be able to get it.

"That's something we can definitely research and get back to you," he said.

Ratliff also asked Loera to dig up a staffing list for the arts branch, a breakdown of which schools are paying for their own arts teachers, which get them from the district — and which get none at all.

Without those details, she said, the board can't make informed decisions on the Superintendent's budget proposals.

"This is not about an interest group," Zimmer told Loera as questions piled on, "this is about equitable access to arts education for our kids."

He asked Loera take a message to the administration: the board needs more transparency from administrators so it can craft policies that provide arts access to students who need it the most.

DOCUMENT: Check to see if your elementary school will get orchestra next year