Those are some pretty fancy renovations on the drawing board for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, including a courtyard café with retractable awnings and something called the Premier Level, where swells can sip cocktails while overlooking the stage.Is it appropriate for the Broward School Board to contribute $6 million toward the $44 million project?That's the thorny question facing School Board members. After massive teacher layoffs and cuts to music and arts programs in public schools, the performing arts center is hitting up the school district for a hefty contribution.Funds are also slated to come from private donors ($20 million-$25 million), Broward County ($12 million), the city of Fort Lauderdale ($4.5 million) and the Downtown Development Authority ($1 million).The school funding could be a tough sell."I value the arts, and I value our partnership with the Broward Center, but we don't have money for ourselves — do we really have the money to be giving it away outside?" School Board member Laurie Rich Levinson told me Wednesday.Two other School Board members I spoke to, Nora Rupert and newcomer Katie Leach, seemed more amenable to the funding request, but it should make for some interesting debate in the coming months."I hope we can come up with these dollars, but I don't know if we can," said Leach, who serves as the school district's appointee to the Broward Center's governing board.I'm a big supporter of the arts and a big fan of the Broward Center, which has changed the downtown Fort Lauderdale landscape for the better since it opened 20 years ago. But when I first heard about the school funding component for the renovations, my reaction was a strong, "Hell no."Wrong time, wrong message, wrong everything.That said, I'm OK with the other three public prongs for the project. It's appropriate for the county, city and DDA to pitch in.Besides new bars and cafes, the renovations will pay for lighting and sound improvements, upgrades to the smaller Amaturo Theater and a new $8 million education center for students and school programs.The education center alone makes it a worthwhile investment for the school district, says Broward Center CEO Kelley Shanley.Shanley tried to convince me the school dollars will be well spent, since the district gets more bang for its buck by combining money with other entities.The school district was a partner in the arts center's construction 20 years ago, and the school system sends 125,000 kids to the center annually for events and performances. Some are tied to the curriculum, like anti-bullying programs being held this week.The Broward school money would come from the capital budget, which can only be used for infrastructure and equipment, not teacher salaries or supplies.Still, as Levinson notes, "The capital budget is running a deficit, and we've got dilapidated buildings and need to update our own technology."My advice to the Broward Center: Shake those private money trees a little harder. If there's a way to do this without school funds, a lot of teachers and parents will shout, "Bravo!"
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Saturday, October 15, 2011
The $6 Million Question is asked by Sun-Sentinel's Michael Mayo: "Should Broward school money go to Performing Arts Center renovations?" No!
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