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Uphill Battle : School For Arts Still Seeks Help

May 15, 1987|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

The proposed Orange County High School of the Performing Arts, hailed as part of a growing trend toward special schools for aspiring artists and entertainers, is facing an uphill battle for private funds and support from other school districts.

Undaunted, organizers for the special school on the Los Alamitos High School campus say they will open as scheduled this fall, if on a less ambitious scale. A $194,700 state grant, they say, will fund a partial, tuition-free program for about 150 students.

Organizers say they still hope to raise an additional $300,000 to operate a "full-scale" arts school, complete with orchestra and other programs for about 220 students. They say the funds, which they hope to raise from Orange County businesses and community organizations, are needed to pay salaries for additional teachers, among other costs.

But recruiting students from other school districts throughout the county may prove a bigger problem.

So far, only two of the county's 28 school districts have officially indicated a willingness to allow their students to transfer to the Los Alamitos school, which some administrators say they view as a potential drain of both dollars and students from their own districts.

A performing arts high school elsewhere, these administrators argue, would deprive their schools of artistically talented students and also would divert much-needed state funds from the fiscally strapped districts.

"Too many of us are already hit by crucial drops in enrollment and funding. The idea of losing any more students and ADA (average daily attendance funds paid by the state per student) is the last thing we want to think about," said one school district administrator strongly critical of the countywide plan who asked not to be identified. "We do not want any territorial battles."

State ADA assistance amounts to about $3,000 for each student enrolled during the academic year. But, these administrators maintain, if any of their students leave to enroll as full-time participants in the performing arts school, those students' ADA support would go to the Los Alamitos district.

Still, organizers for the Orange County Performing Arts High School, which won final approval from Los Alamitos Unified School District's board of trustees on March 16, argue that their countywide arts project should not be judged--or rejected--prematurely.

"This is such an emerging concept, we feel a new set of criteria should be applied to it," said Jean Cross, project coordinator for the district.

Despite the obstacles, Cross and other organizers are proceeding with plans to open the arts high school in the fall with at least 150 students, about 100 of whom would be recruited from school districts throughout Orange County and the Long Beach-Norwalk-Cerritos area.

The first student auditions are set for June 15-30 at Los Alamitos High School.

"Our aim is a countywide school to serve artistically talented students," said Cross, who already has received more than 200 inquiries, mostly from students outside Los Alamitos. "We do not believe our project is a threat to anyone else. We see it as a partnership, not a competitor."

The Los Alamitos project, the first such school planned in Orange County, is modeled after public arts institutions in Los Angeles, Fresno and Sacramento, all of which combine intensive instruction in fine arts with regular academic subjects.

New York City has long had a public high school devoted to training actors, dancers, musicians and artists. But the notion of a public high school solely for arts majors only recently has gained momentum in Southern California, propelled perhaps by the popularity of the film "Fame" and the popular television series of the same name.

After years of proposals that went nowhere, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts finally opened two years ago and remains the only such full-time public program there. A recipient of a $400,000 state grant this year, the tuition-free school based at Cal State Los Angeles serves 320 students from 41 Los Angeles County school districts.

A new, state-run California Summer School for the Arts, backed by a $350,000 state grant, will open this summer at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Names of 400 high school students selected for the four-week, all-arts program are to be announced later this month. (Tuition for the summer program is $750, which includes room and board.)

As in the case of the Los Angeles County project, the proposed Orange County High School of the Performing Arts would offer music, drama, dance, fine arts and video classes in the afternoons. In the mornings, a regular curriculum of math, English, science and other subjects will be taught.

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