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WOODLAND HILLS : Hosting Parties More Lucrative for Schools

July 23, 1994|SUSAN BYRNES

Party planners may soon have a new venue to consider: public schools.

A shift in Los Angeles Unified School District policy to allow campuses to keep most of the revenues collected by renting out their facilities is giving public schools an incentive to polish their party-hosting skills.

At least one already has. The West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills is marketing its four-acre landscaped garden as a serene, park-like setting ideal for a wedding reception.

In the past, funds collected from renting school sites for parties, conferences and other functions went directly to the district and were earmarked to be used for class-size reduction. When the budget crisis worsened several years ago, the money--about $500,000 a year--went directly into the general fund.

Now, in response to recommendations from an Arthur Andersen & Co. audit of the district last year, the district will allow schools to keep about 70% of their revenues and use the money however they see fit.

"We're excited," said Bob Niccum, director of the district's real estate division. "This gives schools money that goes over and above what they would normally get."

The goal is to let every school keep all it makes, but given the current budget crisis, Niccum said, that is not yet possible.

But because of its unique park, the West Valley Occupational Center negotiated a deal with the district to keep 100% of its income.

"It's just a win-win situation," West Valley Principal Harlan Barbanell said. "It's putting money back into our program."

Niccum said the district is trying to identify other schools with special features that would be eligible for such an arrangement. One campus is already under consideration for a cellular antenna and another for use of its parking structure, he said.

The occupational center will put the $50 an hour it earns by renting its mini-park directly back into the landscape architecture program that maintains it.

"This is just a good break for an occupational program because it allows us to teach entrepreneurial skills," Barbanell said. "This gives students the skills of running a little business."

Barbanell said renting the park could be just the beginning of business ventures on campus. He said he hopes to one day host a wedding reception with cosmetology students fixing the bride's coiffure, bakery students making the cake, photography students shooting the video and automotive students driving the limousine.

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