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LA Unified's arts plan is out, now board member wants to know: where's the budget?

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65045 full

More than eight weeks after Los Angeles Unified School District officials completed the district's new plan for arts education, many details on how the plan will be implemented remain unclear.

One key missing detail is the budget. The 44-page plan refers to an "attached budget" that the district has not yet released.

"I'm really sick of good plans, I need strategies that will make sure that the words in the plan actually come to fruition," said Steve Zimmer, who's on the Board of Education. He called the missing funding details his most critical question about the new plan.

Zimmer has authored an arts education resolution that will come before the school board on September 10 and gives the district a 60 day deadline to submit details on how it will implement the plan. Zimmer said that means a budget.

"If you're serious about implementing something, you have to have the money and the resources to do it," he said.

L.A. Unified administrators declined multiple requests for interviews on the status of the budget. They said it will be part of the overall budget for the 2013-2014 school year, which will come before the board later this year.

The average student in L.A. Unified spends two percent or less of his or her school career learning the arts, according to the arts plan.

Zimmer said the landscape of arts education in the district is one where luck largely determines access - schools that have parents or school leaders who support the arts get it, as well as wealthy schools. But a large spread of the district has no access at all.

"Our goal is that we take the kind of arts roulette, if you will, off the, off the table and replace it with universal access to arts education," he said.

The district's approach to releasing the new arts plan has left some arts supporters with a lot of questions.

"We keep asking for the clarity," said Danielle Brazell, executive director of the advocacy group Arts for LA.

But she remains optimistic.

"We have unanimous support from the board. We have Superintendent [John] Deasy always supportive of arts education," she said. "So we feel hopeful that the budget is going to come through."

Brazell also called for better transparency and said she was a little disappointed that the plan hasn't come before the school board in a public setting since its release.

One challenge for L.A. Unified is the size of the district.

"The bureaucracy is so frightening,"  said Tom Whaley, the Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified school district. Trying to make big changes in L.A. Unified, he said, "is like trying to push, not the boulder up the hill -  it's like a mountain up a hill."

His district is seen as a leader in successful arts education. With 11,400 students, it pales in size to L.A. Unified's 650,000.

Santa Monica/Malibu revamped its arts instruction in February 2005. 61 percent of its K-12 students are enrolled in district funded arts classes as of Fall 2012. The district also partners with benefactors who provide arts opportunities to students.

 L.A. Unified's goal is to provide arts education to every student.

Whaley said successful plans incorporate input from parents, students and teachers -  and locate matching funders.

L.A. Unified's new arts plan calls for the creation of a city-wide network of museums, theaters and other arts resources that will help support arts education  in the district. 

Some arts educators in the district have said they felt left out of the process. 

Fourth grade teacher Laurie Schlichter was supportive of the district's arts plan, but concerned that teachers wouldn't be supported with resources like time and space that they'd need to increase arts education in the classroom.

But she's glad the district is at least making arts a priority.

"I appreciate the fact that they are trying to renew what was there before the decimation," she said. "With re-instituting the arts program as something of value, that's going to allow me to feel more free in my teaching, and I'll be able to reach more children."

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