School board member concerned over Appell Center partnership
The York City School District provides $300,000 annually to the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, yet the center is charging district students up to $300 each for a two-week summer camp.
That’s just one aspect of a partnership intended to provide arts education to district high schoolers that isn’t sitting well with a school board member.
At a June 14 school board committee meeting, Michael Breeland asked about a clause in the district’s contract with the Appell Center that stipulates any leftover funds be returned to the district.
Business manager Richard Snodgrass replied that the leftover money is rolled over into the next year’s contract.
Breeland, a retired teacher, responded by asking how much of the money is rolled over every year. Snodgrass said he didn’t know, but he would find out.
“If there’s money that needs to come back to this district, that’s where I want it,” Breeland said. “I don’t want it at the Appell Center.”
Concerns: William Penn social studies teacher Maggie Mafnus also spoke up during the meeting, saying she was troubled that former performing arts director Cassie Rush is no longer with the Appell Center.
“I’m concerned that we lost an ally that has been very diligent in making sure that although (the Appell Center) was her employer ... they were being true to the purpose of the program, which was to serve our students,” she said.
The Performing Arts Institute at William Penn Senior High School — through a partnership with the Appell Center (then the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center) — was reopened during the 2014-15 school year after falling victim to budget cuts a few years earlier.
The $300,000 annual cost for running the program was to cover staff and supplies, district spokeswoman Erin James said at the time.
District-funded salaries: Mafnus cited a summer camp by the Appell Center and the Weary Arts Group that started this week as an example of how district funds are not benefiting district students.
She said the district pays for 100 percent of several employee salaries, including the technical theater director, a dance teacher and an acting teacher, but the employees will be working on a summer camp that is not provided free of charge to students.
On the Appell Center website, the camp lists a $200 tuition cost for a one-week camp session and $300 for a two-week session.
“Not open to our students free of charge, but we’re paying for it?” Breeland asked.
The summer camp is not specified in the district’s contract as a program provided by the school district. The contract also specifies that employees for the district's performing arts program are employees of the Appell Center.
Board member Jose Santiago said the board should have been more specific about the use of the funds.
"We put ourselves in this situation," he said.
'Philosophical view': Mafnus said the Appell Center’s use of funds is based on a “philosophical view” of how they want to run the program.
“They pretty much see it as they can use those funds as they see fit,” she said, including using the money to pay for employee salaries.
“They see (the staff) as their employees, not employees of the district,” Mafnus said, adding that some of the programming the employees are involved with has nothing to do with York City students.
“I think that a lot of our residents would have a real issue with the way that’s being administered,” she said.
“I’m a school (board) director, homeowner, taxpayer, and I have a problem with that,” Breeland responded. “And I don’t share their philosophical view.”
He added he’d like to see the board look more into the matter.
“If this is what’s going to happen, I would move that we terminate our partnership with the Appell Center if our students aren’t benefiting from these programs that are being outsourced,” Breeland said.
“I’m only one school board member, but that’s my feeling on it,” he said.
Response: Appell Center CEO Todd Fogdall reiterated in a statement via email that teachers assisting students in the William Penn performing arts program are Appell Center employees.
He added that scholarships are available for students who are unable to afford the registration price for camps.
"To our knowledge, the school district’s administration has full confidence in our partnership, the contract and our performance under that contract," Fogdall added.
In an emailed statement, district Superintendent Eric Holmes said the partnership between the district and the Appell Center has been "enormously successful in returning William Penn to its roots as a premier school for students interested in the performing arts."
Holmes also confirmed the district's plans to create a performing arts academy for the 2018-19 school year.
He said the district, under its recovery plan, is implementing an academy model at William Penn that includes the existing Freshman Academy and upcoming Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy opening in the fall.
"This academy would be an expansion of the current performing arts program, and it is my hope to also continue the district’s relationship with the Appell Center," Holmes said.