Fort Worth school bond package includes a performing/fine arts school

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
At a glance Performing/Fine Arts Campus to serve grades 6-12. Total square feet: 175,145 Facility to include administration offices, classrooms, art studios, dance hall, choir hall and a 1,000-seat main performance hall. Projected costs: Construction cost total: $40,411,983 Fee & Permit Subtotal: $4,849,438 Fixtures, furniture, and equipment: $4,041,198 Total project cost estimate 2nd quarter 2013: $49,302,619 Inflation (2013) @ 8 percent: $53,246,829 Inflation (2014) @ 3 percent: $54,844,234 1.9 years inflation @ 5.50 percent $54,650,000
Proposition 2 at a glance Performance & Fine Arts Academy: A new campus for grades 6-12 with a focus on the arts. The campus is described as a specialized center that would attract students in performing arts such as dance, music and theater. Cost: $40,000,000. STEM School: A centralized campus for grades 6-12 that would bring together students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Cost: $12,500,000. Other direct costs: Building purchase for STEM campus. Cost: $4,500,000. Indirect costs: Includes construction and design contingencies, construction cost escalation, environmental mitigation, furniture, fixtures, classroom equipment, professional services fees, printing of documents, permitting fees. Cost: $16,305,000.

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One in an occasional series about the Nov. 5 Fort Worth school district bond election.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Sierra Worman and Jeremiah Tyson spend many school days perfecting their artistry. They are 15-year-olds with dreams of having Broadway or professional singing careers.

Sierra and Jeremiah gear up for singing competitions while juggling classwork at Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The campus, tucked in the Dallas Art District, trains dancers, singers and artists in an atmosphere that embraces algebra with the same fervor as the acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun.

Sierra and Jeremiah live by a code: “No pass. No performance.” It’s a code that motivates them to push for excellence on report cards and the stage.

“I would personally love to see more schools like this,” Worman said. “It’s a huge motivator for those of us who want to pursue a career in our art form.”

Dallas’ famed arts magnet is the prototype that Fort Worth school leaders reference while pitching plans for a performing/fine arts campus. The project is included in an estimated $490 million bond program that goes before voters on Nov. 5.

At informational town hall meetings, superintendent Walter Dansby tells audiences, that the specialized campus would give gifted students a place to grow in the arts.

Often, Dansby singles out famous alumni such as actress and singer Betty Buckley or artist Sedrick Huckaby. Dansby believes Fort Worth has many more stars-in-the-making.

“We want to build that talent,” Dansby said.

The Fort Worth Plan

Picture a school with two theaters, rehearsal rooms, a permanent gallery and a repair shop for musical instruments.

Young dancers in training leap and twirl as an instructor counts out the rhythm. Artists paint and draw in studios while singers make sweet music.

The scenes seem to play out from movies such as Fame or Step Up, where high school students fine-tune their talents in New York City or Maryland, but the setting is Fort Worth.

“I think it is a really good idea,” said Wyly Sheffield, a 17-year-old senior at Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School. “Art is really good for education.”

District officials say the proposed facility could be built in the city’s Cultural District. Dansby said they would look at district-owned property first when deciding where the planned school would sit.

The total project would cost an estimated $54.7 million, according to a detailed assessment of the planned building.

Construction costs are estimated at about $40 million, with the balance coming from indirect costs such as fees, permits, furniture, equipment and inflation projections, according to the assessment.

“That’s with furniture and all,” Dansby explained, adding that indirect costs are accounted for throughout the bond package.

The performing/fine arts academy is included in Proposition 2, which totals about $73.3 million. Under that proposition, voters will decide if they want to use bonds to finance two specialized high school campuses, the arts school and a proposed academy for science, technology, engineering and math instruction.

While the planned campus has strong support among many arts advocates, some critics wonder if this is sound borrowing.

Jennifer Frank, a parent of two students in the Fort Worth school district, said there is already an arts centered campus, the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. That Fort Worth academy is a fine arts public charter school that requires an audition for enrollment and is home to the Texas Boys Choir.

“Why do we need a brand new one?” Frank asked the Star-Telegram. “We are $715 million dollars in the hole as it is and the ones who will suffer for it are the kids and taxpayers.”

The Fort Worth school district’s total outstanding debt is listed at $715,114,995 on the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts’ “Debt-At-A-Glance” website.

That figure, listed for Aug. 31, 2012, doesn’t include an estimated $42.6 million principal payment made on Aug. 15, said Clint Bond, spokesman for the district. The current debt total is listed at about $672.5 million, he said.

Critics of the bond package said they don’t want the district’s debt to grow and school taxes to increase.

“We are sick of being taxed every time we turn around,” Frank said. “When does it stop?”

Reading, writing and rhythm

If approved, the arts school would serve about 600 students in grades 6-12, said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent of leadership, learning and student support.

“Students will still take standard courses; however, these might be formatted in creative ways to infuse the arts into their curriculum,” Sorum said.

Byron Otis, 16, a student from Booker T. Washington, likes the plans for a Fort Worth arts magnet. He lives in Keller and says some his friends weren’t able to try out in Dallas.

“I think it is a good idea,” Otis said. “My friends, I know, would like one.”

Sorum said early plans indicate the campus would have about 20 “core subject” teachers, those who instruct students in English, math, science and social studies.

“Elective teachers will be a bit difficult to predict at this time and will be a function of the areas of interest expressed by students,” Sorum said.

The arts school likely will have “a significant number of adjunct type faculty” to teach specialties, he said.

Teachers and administrators will be paid through the district’s general fund, which is supported by per pupil dollars allocated to the district by the state, Sorum said.

A selection/application process for the the arts school is still being discussed and explored, Dansby said.

Clusters or areas of interest would likely include music, fine arts, theater, choir, dance and instrument repair, according to the district.

Strong student interest in the arts helped district leaders bring the plan to voters.

“While our secondary schools have strong programs that will continue to grow with the ever-increasing number of students who have benefited from a full elementary arts and music program, we now have the numbers of students with the interest and affinity to support a full-time secondary arts academy,” Sorum said.

Renewed talk of an arts school

The famous painting, The Torment of St. Anthony, grabbed international headlines in 2009 when it was acquired by Fort Worth’s Kimball Art Museum.

The image of St. Anthony being attacked by club-toting demons is believed to be an early work of Michelangelo and a piece to be studied.

Local art advocates point to that work as an example of the resources available to Fort Worth students. The possibility of having a campus devoted to the arts is welcomed by some.

“I think it would be a fantastic addition to Fort Worth ISD,” said Jody Ulrich, president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County.

Ulrich said the campus is a great fit in Fort Worth, which enjoys the Cultural District and emerging and growing art sectors on Race Street and Magnolia Avenue.

Lauri McKay Bevan, executive director of Imagination Celebration of Fort Worth, said her organization has a long-running relationship with the district. The group helps provide more than 60,000 arts and cultural experiences for students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Bevan, who supports the academy plans, said an arts campus needs to be nurtured so it can be a success. The school would need long-term support from school leaders and philanthropists.

“It needs support,” Bevan said. “The community needs to be behind it.”

Louise Appleman, former chair of the arts council board, said the idea is one she’s heard before and supports.

“I think it is something that has been on Page 2 for a number of years,” Appleman said.

Appleman points to Kids Who Care Inc. as an example of how exposure to the arts is good for young people. Kids Who Care Musical Theater is a non-profit theater company that helps build creativity and confidence among youngsters.

Put the “A” in STEM

The list of high achieving alumni from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is long and includes singers Norah Jones and Erykah Badu.

Campus leaders note the school didn’t become a success overnight and community commitment to the campus helped it gain a strong reputation.

Booker T. Washington High School was founded in 1922 and was the first Dallas high school for black students, said Scott Rudes, principal. It existed as such until the late 1960s, when the school was closed.

In 1976, as part of a desegregation order, an arts magnet was created by the Dallas school district, Rudes said. In its 30-plus year evolution, the campus has grown by 200,000 square-feet as part of a capital campaign that raised about $36 million from the community.

The Dallas school district provided about $29 million, school leaders said.

The school’s reputation draws interest from hundreds of hopeful students. There were 900 applicants for the 225 incoming freshmen spaces this fall.

The audition process is based on grades, standardized testing and an audition. The school aims to fill every space with an in-district student first, said Sharon Modabberi-Cornnell, a spokeswoman for the school. Left over slots are filled from a waiting list that includes students from across North Texas.

Rudes said there is room for more art magnets or specialized schools in Texas and nationwide.

“I think that art is a reflection of a city’s and a country’s investment in civilization — investment in the future,” Rudes said. “By having a dedicated arts magnet program, you are allowing children to explore their creative talents and immerse themselves in a program of study that’s going to pay dividends beyond what we can possibly imagine. That has been seen time and time again at a place like Booker T.”

Bob Marshall, a member of the Dallas school’s advisory board, said the push for more science, technology, engineering and math education needs to include an “A” for the arts.

“We don’t call it STEM, we call it STEAM,” Marshall said, adding that the alumni also includes scientists and doctors as well as artists and entertainers.

Sedrick Huckaby, a Fort Worth artist who teaches drawing and painting at the University of Texas at Arlington, said education can have a focus in the arts that is “not to the degradation of reading, writing and arithmetic.”

Huckaby, who has a second-grader and a kindergarten student attending Fort Worth’s Texas Elementary School of Arts, believes an arts focus helps gifted students find their artist’s voice.

“It allows them to be able to see and hone their artistic abilities as soon as they are recognized ... Also it helps the student to be more well-rounded,” said Huckaby, a 1993 graduate of Fort Worth’s OD Wyatt High School.

Huckaby’s painting, Hidden In Plain Site, is currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Art advocates note that youngsters begin learning by focusing on art. Acting, singing, dancing and drawing come naturally to little ones.

“Kids are involved in art before they know how to write,” Huckaby said. “It’s one of the first things they first start doing.”

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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